The idea for this blog came about indirectly, as I watched a steady stream of Saturday afternoon cooking shows on PBS and thought how nice it must be to cook for a whole half-hour in a spacious, tidy kitchen with no interruptions. I love the shows, the creativity and new ideas that come from them, but -- my cooking show would be in a smallish, inefficient kitchen with children wandering through every few minutes asking for snacks or needing a hug or wondering what's for dinner, doors slamming and phones ringing off-camera, and the occasional scream as the girls fought over whose Barbie would get to wear the pink princess dress that day. That would be a real cooking show, I thought. Welcome, then, to "Mommy Cooks"!
I still remember vividly the first meal I made from scratch after our first baby was born, grating cheese and stirring a roux one-handed with the colicky Laura in a sling over my shoulder. I don't know what we'd been eating before, probably cereal and take-out pizza in those sleep-deprived first weeks. I marveled at the sheer normality of cooking, and at the changes that had taken place in our lives since I had last stood in front of the stove. This dish of macaroni and cheese tasted heavenly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it's just really good. The Gruyère and Parmesan give the cheese sauce an extra dimension of flavor, and I love the crushed croutons on the top.
This recipe is adapted from one printed in the Los Angeles Times, and originally comes from the Mustard Seed Café on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles.
Mustard Seed Café Macaroni and Cheese
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
a dash each of cayenne pepper and dry mustard
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 pound (3 cups) grated Cheddar cheese
1/4 pound (1 cup) grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound macaroni, cooked and drained
1 1/2 cups seasoned croutons
Preheat oven to 350° F / 175° C.
Cook and drain the pasta according to package directions. Set aside. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
For the white sauce, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour to make a roux, cooking and stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the milk and broth. Simmer until the roux has thickened and the liquid has evaporated, 6 to 8 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, cayenne, mustard, and salt and pepper. (Remember that the cheese will add a bit of saltiness on its own.) Remove from heat.
Combine the cheeses, and stir 3/4 of it into the hot white sauce. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, and pour all into the prepared dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Put the croutons into a resealable plastic bag, and let the kids crush them with a rolling pin or other fairly heavy object. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
Bake until the cheese melts and browns lightly, 35 to 45 minutes.
Makes 8 to 10 servings. Active work time, about 30 minutes; total preparation time, 1 hour.