Canadian comfort food - either KD or real Mac & Cheese, stovetop or baked
Sometimes it seems that conflict is the very stuff of life. I’m sure we all have days when we’d rather crawl back under the covers and let the wars rage on without us. Country vs. country, religion vs, religion, left vs.right, black vs. white, man vs. wife, Coke vs. Pepsi, sibling rivalry, neighbour wars about whose leaves are falling from whose tree. We go on holidays to “get away from it all” but mainly for a time out from war. We just want to put down our swords, put on our hideous swimming gear under which abrasive sand always finds its way, and let gentle, soothing waves restore our dream of peace and tranquility. If we are there for more than a few idyllic days, of course, we will discover that our place of R&R is the bristling battlefield of the residents of that place, conflict being the very stuff of life.
When we can’t hop on a plane to escape the daily rattle and roar of our lives, we turn to comfort food. Interesting to note that Canadians are the world’s greatest consumers, per capita, of Kraft Dinner, known locally and affectionately as KD. And few among us, if we’re honest, would not confess to at least one familiar blue box with the word “original” printed clearly on the front. And yes, there are Kraft Dinner wars raging as well, between the purists who love the original with the same fervour as they love the mothers who served up KD in their childhoods, and those who hope to convert the masses to a healthier lo-salt option made of pulverized cauliflower and lo-fat cheese. But those looking for comfort always find their way to the “original”. That is the taste that evokes the days when parents could resolve all conflicts, dry all tears, kiss wounds to make them better, and offer comfort in a bowl that frankly looks as bright and toxic as Agent Orange. The following recipe from thekitchn.com is the closest I could come to Mother’s valiant effort to lure us away from the dark side of packaged junk food to true yumminess.
How To Make Creamy Macaroni and Cheese on the Stove
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
1 pound dried short pasta
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 3 cups shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard
Measuring cups and spoons
Colander or strainer
Large serving bowl
Cook the pasta. Bring about 4 quarts of salted water to a boil over high heat in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Warm the milk. Place 1 cup of the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and flour in a small bowl and whisk together until there are no lumps. When you just start to see wisps of steam rising from the warming milk, whisk in the milk-and-flour mixture. Continue whisking gently until the milk thickens slightly to the consistency of heavy cream, 3 to 4 minutes.
Make the cheese sauce. Turn the heat to low and begin mixing handfuls of cheese into the milk. Stir in the salt and mustard. Stir until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Remove the sauce from the heat.
Combine the pasta and cheese sauce. Place the pasta and 1/2 of the cheese sauce in a large serving bowl. Stir to coat the pasta evenly. Add the remaining sauce and any extra add-ins and stir to combine. If you'd like a looser sauce, add up to another 1/4 cup milk if desired. Serve the mac and cheese immediately while still warm.
Baked mac and cheese: If you have a little extra time, you can bake the macaroni and cheese to give it a golden crust. Pour the prepared mac and cheese into a casserole dish, cover with a lid or foil, and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter, and bake uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the interior is bubbly.
Storage: Leftovers will keep for up to 1 week and can be reheated in the microwave. If the sauce is a little dry after reheating, mix in a splash of milk to make it creamy again
Mother made the baked version with the golden browned buttery breadcrumbs – cornflake crumbs if memory serves. And I will tell you that it was, indeed, delicious. And probably worth the effort. But somehow, in spite of her best efforts, I will admit that I always have that familiar blue box in my pantry, and it does say “Original”. For those moments when my sword feels heavy and I need a wee time out to recharge. Feet up. KD. Netflix.