Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Date Night, Solo-Style - Mac & Cheese, Top Gear, & Netflix

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I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a thing for boxed macaroni and cheese. I've had since I was the mini sumo wrestler 2nd grader who looked forward to mom fixing up Velveeta shells and cheese or the Kraft cheese and macaroni. The "cheese" came first because it was supposed to be so cheesy. When you're 7 and demanded the caloric intake of a 6' 7" athletic superstar it was just that. I couldn't get enough. When my mom would place a modest portion in front of me I'd look at her indignantly.

"Where's the rest?" I'd ask in my best squeaky Korean.

"You can have that and save the rest for later," my mother would plead, willing the obesity out of me.

"No, I need to it all all now," I'd say. "I'm going to eat all of it." Manifesto said, I proceeded to inhale the whole lot. It wasn't until I was older and exposed to made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese and other similarly rich and decadent pasta dishes did I even understand what the "cheese" could really be. And I love those rich concoctions.

But on a weeknight home late from work it's one of the few things that will do.

It's 9:15 p.m. At about this time of night, Spaniards just begin to think about what they will have for dinner. Vanessa decides she needs a box of macaroni and cheese.

Needless to say, things are a bit different. I'm not against the Kraft, but I'm also not against Annie's Organic. Especially when I find them at Big Lots for $1 each. And I tried recently to eat a whole box of the stuff all by lonesome just to eat some sort of anxiety out of me (childhood nostalgia) and nearly hurled when I reached the halfway mark. But it isn't all my prudent consumption habits. I've reached a point in my life where I indulge in my boxed mac and cheese craving. I eat it alone. But macaroni and cheese out of the box alone doesn't quite do it. I doctor the hell out of it.

What I've been known to do with mac and cheese on a late weeknight or middle of a lazy Sunday filled with piles of work:

1.) I always use whole milk. There was a point when my mother used skim milk in an effort to slim down my Michelin-Man thighs. Nowadays, since I've reached a medical chart-appropriate weight, it's only whole milk. At least. I've been known to substitute cream. It tastes really good. Or as I did last night, when I'm out of any dairy, I resort to a can of coconut milk spiked with Worcestershire sauce. You'd never know it wasn't milk.

2.) That leftover bit of buttermilk sitting in the tiny container that won't be used in anything else before it goes bad blends nicely with the powdered cheese.

3.) I can't really eat the noodles alone anymore. I actually crave a big addition of broccoli florets to spike the elbows. My mother would be so proud. I would tell her these things, but if I told her I was still eating boxed macaroni and cheese she would think (even more) that I'm a destitute freelance writer. The broccoli I add to the macaroni as it's cooking. Just throw it in the last two minutes so that it's still vibrantly gree and crisp. Eating boxed macaroni and cheese by your lonesome might be construed as sad. Overcooked broccoli in said solo mac & cheese is even sadder.

4.) Undercooking the pasta is the best things you can do. In my mind, "8 to 10 minutes" is really about 4 to 5 minutes with the broccoli added the last two minutes. Drain the lot and then calculate the last two minutes of cooking when you throw in the whole milk/cream/powdered cheese mixture.

5.) In addition to cream or whole milk, I like ground white pepper, some cayenne and maybe ground mustard. Depends on how tired I am or how much I need to procrastinate. I whisk it all together to make one uniform paste.

6.) Yes, I've added bacon to the boxed stuff.

7.) The suggested butter amount I tend to double. I also like to brown it in a sautepan with some diced chicken or drained olive oil packed tuna. If there's draining, the dogs love me since they get to lap up the fishy oil. They look especially luminous the next day. Fat is good for skin and hair in humans and dogs.

8.) Garlic is great. Saute it as the butter is browning and the meat of choice is cooking. In a pinch garlic olive oil is good, too. But you still need butter.

9.) I've been known to add an anchovy filet or two to the hot fat and letting it melt. I help it along with a bit of pulverizing from my wooden spoon.

10.) Like any good pasta dish, everything requires some good old fashioned, "getting to know you" time together in the pot over a fairly high heat to thicken and thoroughly heat the sauce and to finish off the cooking of elbow macaroni and broccoli florets.

11.) Unlike my former self, I never eat the whole lot in one meal. There's always some saved over and placed into tupperware for another lunch. My mother would be so proud.

Or mortified.