From the title, you might be expecting a philosophical babble about conquering fear. Yes but no; this is a recipe for Macaroni and cheese. Hear me out.
I have a love-hate relationship with cooking (emphasis on the hate). It is not even the actual act of cooking, but everything else-putting together a recipe, sourcing the ingredients (so expensive), having to do it multiple times, and worst of spending all that time and effort only to end up cooking something that is not edible. So I have often abstained from cooking save some intermittent bursts of optimism when I find myself in a cooking frenzy.
One thing that I have been trying to cook, and that has always seemed a bit intimidating is mac and cheese. I did not even fully realise this until I started writing this post. The first time I tried to make it was during one of my cooking frenzies- I don’t think I had even ever had mac and cheese at that point, but I just wanted to cook it. I dislike Macaroni but I love cheese so I thought I would for sure love cheesy macaroni seeing as everything tastes good drenched in cheese. I don’t remember how it tasted, but I remember thinking it was too cheesy and M&C is not for me. I took it to a potluck the next day and one of my friends ate it all with her hands, probably because it was the only non-spicy option. Anyway seeing her eat it all made me very happy but I didn’t eat it myself. Then I sated my craving with Krafts mac and cheese before I just had enough of the whole thing and did not eat it again.
Fast forward a few years and it’s Thanksgiving. I am staying with a friend and we decide to celebrate it. She makes a roast with all the trimmings and I offer to make mac and cheese. I google an easy recipe, and under the watchful eye of my Master-Iron-Chef friend the mac and cheese comes out edible, nice even.
Few years go by and I am spending Christmas alone with my sister. We get some chicken from Nando’s (hold the tears please) and I decide to make some mac and cheese to go with it. I did not pay attention to the recipe, and my bechamel sauce was lumpy as heck but I closed my eyes and just mixed everything together and threw it in the oven. Needless to say it was completely inedible.
Another couple of years go by, and it’s March 2020. The world has gone to hell in a basket and everyone is stocking up on food and toilet paper. What do I do? Go to the store and get ingredients for Mac and Cheese of course, what else? This time was different; I was going to kill it. A friend had given me what was essentially a cookbook for dummies, and in it I found two recipes-one for mac and cheese, and one for cheese sauce. I read both of them over and over till they imprinted in my brain. For the first time, I was not just following a recipe. I actually understood what needed to be done, and it is easier to understand once it has been broken into its components. It is really quite easy you see;
First the Mac;
-Boil it according to the packet instructions
-Drain and set aside
Then the Cheese
First is the Roux; Roux is equal parts flour and fat mixed together and is used to thicken sauces. For this you will need flour and butter (which serves as the fat).
Then the Bechamel sauce-This is formed by adding milk to the Roux. The danger with this is that the Sauce will be lumpy and the solution is to use warm milk, add it in slowly and stir until your arms fall off. JUST KEEP STIRRING UNTIL THE LUMPS VANISH!
Then the fun part-the cheese sauce. Add all the cheddar and Parmesan until the sauce is thick and gooey and cheesy.
Then add the macaroni to the cheesy mixture and you have your mac and cheese.
If you need measurements, you would probably be better off reading a proper recipe then.
Some people eat it like that, others like to bake it in the oven- in which case sprinkle the remaining cheese on it first.
That’s it! For years I read recipe after recipe online, terrified to make the mac and cheese. And when my bechamel sauce inevitably became lumpy I gave up in despair. No more. I have mastered the Macaroni and cheese and can only get better from here on.
*Lemony Snicket voice* I wish I could say this story ends on this happy note but alas you know how life goes.
The mac and cheese was delicious and I was overjoyed at my success. The recipe book said to then put it under a grill for 5 minutes. Now now I thought that was a bit weird-surely it takes more than 5 minutes to bake mac and cheese. But I did it all the same. The cheese on the top turned brown pretty quickly which I thought was a good sign-but actually didn’t taste good so I scrapped it off. But the whole things was muy belissimo and I gobbled it down hungrily and licked off every scrap of cheese. I did not eat as much as I would have liked because I wanted to have leftovers for the next day.
Well the next day, I returned from work with joy in my heart and a skip in my step and rushed over to warm my mac and cheese. I sat down to eat, took one bite and nope! It did not taste good. It was more congealed than cheesy and I was a little disheartened.
Just as I was about to go to sleep, it hit me. The recipe I used said to grill the mac and cheese for 5 minutes, most likely because she and her family of four were going to gobble it all down that evening. What I should have done was bake the Mac and Cheese for about 40 or so minutes rather than just put it under the grill. My cooking IQ is improving! I am so proud.
The lesson still stands and it applies far beyond cooking– sometimes the fear is just in your mind. Look at the task before you, break it down into its components, familiarise yourself with each one, and then tackle them. And if at first you don’t succeed,
erase all evidence that you ever tried dust yourself up and try again. Despite the leftover mishap, the success of my Mac and Cheese has given me the confidence to cook more. Yesterday I decided I wanted some mashed potatoes and chicken for dinner so I just went and made some. Whereas in the past I would have toyed around with the idea for days trying to summon the energy to make it happen, before eventually getting takeaway from Nando’s. I am actually excited to cook now, to try new (simple) recipes that I can add to my food rota, and to create a food rota. Now is as good a time as any, seeing as we are all stuck inside till thy kingdom come. Thanks Covid!