I stirred the pot of delicious golden pasta. It was cathartic in a mindless, zoning-out way. I did not have to concentrate hard to stir pasta. My mother and fiancée stood next to me, each looking at what I was making.
“Mac-n-cheese babe?” Mik, my fiancée asked.
“Of course,” I smiled, “this is the best thing in existence.” My mother was helping me this time; she had found a new recipe for mac-n-cheese that used Velveeta cheese and cream cheese. Usually we made mac-n-cheese with just the Velveeta but newness and creamy goodness is a thing that is hard to pass up in this situation.
I love mac-n-cheese. Ask my family, friends, or anyone else and they will tell you what my favorite food is. Since I was a kid it was the food that brought hope and comfort to a kid with no friends. As I grew, I learned to make it and now consider myself a master. It was my mother who taught me after seeing how much I liked it. Now, we mess around with the formula, deciding which form of mac-n-cheese is best; regular boxed, homemade, baked, soupy, or firm; we have tried it all.
Creating mac-n-cheese is an art form. At least, that is what I tell myself whenever I start cooking this delectable meal. It is a golden, creamy, cheesy, goodness that is never far from my heart nor the ones who taste it. Best of all, perhaps, it is pretty easy to make. However, mastering the making of mac-n-cheese is an entirely different noodle, as it were. Come and listen to how I make it.
To start with mac-n-cheese one must start with a pot. It must be a pot, preferably of metal so as to cook over a stove, and cannot be a pan or cake tin or fish bowl. No, no, a metal pot is what is needed; either a new one or a well-used one but not an old rusted thing one finds out in the trash heap. However, the lid is optional, though a lid makes the process quicker indeed. Any pot will do but it must be large enough to create as many portions as one needs. I usually use a large pot since I make a lot for myself and for my family who eats with me. It can comfortably fill about seven good sized bowls. I usually make enough to have seconds as well so it is quite a bit of mac-n-cheese that is made. For such a dish I use a pot around twice the size of one’s head and just as deep. This is more than enough space for what I am making.
After one finds a suitable pot it is then time to fill the pot with good clean water and set this now full pot on the stove. Then simply turn on the stove and wait. This is the harder part; watching water boil. Though not a terribly difficult task it can feel more much lengthier than the other steps. This is also where the pot lid comes in handy, since it will trap the heat and make the water boil faster. Once you have the stove started and the lid on however you must wait. Stand back and admire your handiwork so far. You are well on your way to a masterpiece of artful salty cheesy goodness. Imagine it. Gooey cheese dripping off of tender pasta. A mouthwatering aroma. You can imagine taking a fork and dipping it into this heavenly mixture; taking a bite; savoring it.
All at once the water is boiling. You have gotten through the tougher part. The next part is not as bad but still a waiting game. In this step you add the wonderful pasta. You can get any kind you want but elbow pasta is what is used normally. Take this pasta and cast it into the boiling water you have already created. Then let it simmer, but only for about seven minutes. Too long in the water the pasta will get soft and squishy, but too short in the water and the pasta is hard and tacky. The beauty of mac-n-cheese is to have the pasta be right in the middle; tender, with just the right hardness to softness ratio. In this way, seven minutes is about the right time though check with a ladle to confirm the formation of the pasta. It may be that checking the pasta is the best way of confirming the tenderness but having a timer is not bad.
Once you have confirmed the tenderness of the pasta (either by a timer or tasting) it is time to drain the water and start the true process of creating the meal. If your pot lid has a built in strainer that is best, however, you can also use a large strainer for this. Take the steaming goulash you currently have and use a strainer (of the before mentioned options) to pour out the water. Be careful here, for the water was just boiling and the steam is quite hot. After you have the pasta in the strainer wait for just a moment to let it settle before picking up the strainer and shaking it so the rest of the water has a chance to drain as well. Then, return the pasta to the pot and return to the stove.
The next step is to start the process of turning simple pasta into work of holy creation. You will take milk, butter, and cheese and combine them into the holy element; mac-n-cheese. Like the many that came before you, the good mac-n-cheese you create will change lives for the better. To do this, you can either look at the box of quick-mac or delve into the unknown deliciousness of home cooked mac-n-cheese. This is where I take mastery. I will set the stove on low. It is to keep the pasta hot and helps the cheese melt once it is added. I take milk, any kind really, but usually two percent or whole milk and add it to the pasta. I add about a half of the volume the pot holds. It is enough so that when I stir the pasta the cooking spoon moves easily. I then add butter yet perhaps not in the traditional way. First, I take a whole stick of butter (remind you I am making enough to feed two helpings to seven people) and place it in a bowl in the microwave to melt it. I get too impatient with just letting it melt in the pasta itself since it takes a while. So I quicken the process by melting the butter.
After the butter is melted, I pour it into the pasta and milk mixture; this is the foundation the pillar of perfection you will be creating. Now, is the time to add the cheese; the most important part. I use Velveeta cheese, a glorious distant cousin to the powdered cheese that comes in a box. Velveeta cheese has a creamy and cheddar-y taste that when added to pasta finishes the creation process. In a sense, it is a holy substance that comes in a foot long by two inch wide and deep tin foil box. I will use about half of this box but only because Velveeta cheese has too soft a taste if used lightly. For a full cheesy taste, one must use more cheese or different cheese; cheddar is what I use to supplement the taste when I need to.
Cut the cheese into small cubes and add them to the mixture. You must keep stirring it, do not stop for the milk and butter could burn on the bottom if you are not careful. It will be tiring for your arm, especially your forearm but bear with it! The pain will not last. This is the last step after all. After the mixing of the mixture is done the meal will be finished. As the cheese melts, reflect on your journey so far. It has not been difficult but not easy either. It is a unique hardship; cooking is. It is a thing that tests us and shows us where we need to improve. That will be true of making mac-n-cheese as with all other recipes. Practice makes perfect and mac-n-cheese is something that is quick, easy, and especially tasty to practice on.
The meal is finished. You have succeeded in stirring it to perfection and now what sits before you is the meal of the gods. Grab a bowl! Grab a spoon! Grab some friends too to share it with and never forget the warmth of friendship or creating an art-form.
“Is it done yet?!” Mik yelled to me from across the dining room.
“Yes! It is babe, hold on!” I yelled back playfully. I turned to my mother, “It is done right?”
My mother, with a twinkle in her eye nodded, “Yep, go call everyone for lunch. I am sure they are all hungry.” I smiled and ran off to get everyone to savor the food.