Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Easiest Mac and Cheese Made Easier

Last weekend was the first I spent without Warren since my return to Boulder.  We spent the majority of our time together on the weekends, and I knew the first one here without him would be particularly difficult.  Thus, I preemptively made plans to surround myself with good people and to do some cooking, as cooking is one of the few things that provide me unconditional solace right now.  Good friends help, too.  It happened to be a cold weekend, and between the weather and the circumstances, it was a perfect opportunity to delve into my favorite culinary realm: comfort food.  Between me and a friend, we plotted to prepare a veritable feast:  baked mac and cheese, roasted meatballs with a bell pepper and caper relish, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and a tender mixed green salad with a lemon-caper vinaigrette, julienned carrots and zucchini, chopped egg, and parmesan. 

Unfortunately, this meal never came to fruition.  I began cooking by attempting to julienne my vegetables for the salad, and this first step became my downfall.  I had just purchased a new (and evil) mandoline slicer earlier that day, and what the slicer called “julienne” was closer to the thickness of a French fry.  While I was busy hating my new mandoline, the zucchini slipped, and I sliced my thumb instead, in three places, perfectly spaced apart.  With a single look at my wound, I knew stitches were probably the best solution.  Luckily, after my burned-hand-incident, I already knew the emergency room drill.  Two hours and seven stitches later, I emerged from the ER, having survived yet another kitchen casualty.  I spent the first half of my ER visit cursing my existence (because I had no one else to blame but myself), and the second half laughing, and I’ve been trying to laugh about it ever since.  How could I make two culinary-related trips to the ER in such a short period of time?  There is only one answer:  I am ridiculous.  It just made me miss Warren so much.  He would have been sweet about it, and helped with tasks that require 2 hands (i.e. dishes), but mostly, we would have laughed about it together. 

The delicious dinner was thwarted by the trip to the ER, and instead we dined on Wendy’s.  After being flooded with adrenaline and having my thumb sewn together, nothing could have been tastier.  Although, I must admit, I will sing the praises of a Wendy’s baked potato any day.  Nonetheless, the following evening, I felt the need to cook, despite my physical limitations.  I made a modified version of my mac and cheese with tomatoes, which eliminated the need for chopping.  It was the most delicious, and easiest thing I could fathom at that point in time.  It’s sort of like pizza mac.  Plus, Warren loved this version of mac and cheese; he literally groaned with his first bite when I made it for him.  Wherever he is, maybe he can still smell it.  More importantly, if he has any inkling of what’s going on in my life, I hope he had a good laugh at me and my bum thumb.

Mac & Cheese with Tomatoes for Idiots:

Cook one pound of penne a few minutes shy of al dente.  Drain quickly (a little pasta water is good).  Return to pot.
Add one 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I used petite diced).
Add one pound shredded cheese (I used a combination of sharp cheddar and a mild cheddar/jack blend).  
Stir to combine; season with salt and pepper to taste; transfer to a greased 9x13 baking dish; cover allow to sit for at least 2 hours or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes (perhaps with a little extra cheese on top), or until bubbling and browned.  Carefully (I don’t need a burn on top of stitches) remove from the oven.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes or so and enjoy.

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