You know what I realized this morning? I’ve been blogging regularly now for seven years. S-E-V-E-N. Sure, I’ve really only been focused solely on food and recipes since the beginning of 2014, but I started cranking out blog posts about two months before the hubby and I embarked on a two-year stint in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia back in 2009. I haven’t really stopped since.
Blogging has meant a lot of things to me. At first, it was a way for me to feel connected and grounded. For the first few months that we lived in Kuala Lumpur, I felt aimless. I didn’t know anyone. I wasn’t there for a job, so there wasn’t anywhere I had to be every day. I was a newlywed, and everyone drove on the wrong (left) side of the road. The blog was a lifeline to a life I deeply missed back home in the U.S.
It’s also been a lifeline since we started our family. On late, bleary-eyed nights when I was awake with one or both of our young babies, I found comfort and sanity in crafting blog posts in my head about parenting, home decorating and life in general. Blogging, as anyone who is also doing it or has tried it, isn’t easy. On my worst days, it feels like a ridiculous chore, because it takes me hours to come up with recipes, actually cook those recipes (and test them), style the food, photograph them and write the actual blog post. I’ve also found that I’ve exposed myself to family, friends, strangers and acquaintances in ways that will never be reciprocated. People know things about me that I’ve forgotten that I’ve revealed about myself on this blog. I’ve even been confronted by a stranger on the DC Metro not too long ago who recognized me and yelled, “HEY GRITS & CHOPSTICKS!” That was super surreal.
Today, out of nostalgia and to show you how embarrassingly bad I used to be at all of this, I’m revisiting one of the very first recipes I ever posted on my blog. This recipe for classic mac and cheese has followed me since my college days and is one of my absolute favorite, incredibly unhealthy comfort foods.
Before I delve into this recipe, though, I have to show you how much I’ve struggled with this blog over the years. I feel like I still have such a long way to go, too. I’m always thinking of ways my blog can be better, and sometimes I beat myself up about it. I knew it could be better when I first started blogging in 2009, but I hadn’t the foggiest clue on how to take a good photo, nor did I know anything about how to tie my images to the text I was writing. Behold the only photos that accompanied my original blog post about my mac and cheese (the link to that post is here):
Yes, folks. There it is. A picture of a bowl of grated cheese and the roux that I made as a base for the creamy cheese sauce that enrobes the macaroni. It apparently never once crossed my mind to take a photo of the actual finished product. You know, the actual MAC AND CHEESE.
I’m totally embarrassed for myself right now.
If, based on my original post, you actually made the recipe, you’d quickly discover what I did: that this recipe for classic mac and cheese is a winner. But you probably wouldn’t have ever even thought to make it, because there wasn’t a picture of the delicious final product to entice you to do so. Instead, all you got were some totally unappetizing images of the ingredients. This was the best I could do back then. To all six of my longtime readers (hi, Mom, Amy, hubby): I’m so sorry. Thanks for sticking with me.
This classic mac and cheese recipe is everything you want in a baked mac and cheese. I used to always use a sharp Cheddar and Gruyere swiss cheese combination. The kids, however, inexplicably love orange cheese, so I’ve evolved my recipe to use an extra sharp aged cheddar. I also have started using buttered Japanese panko bread crumbs, which I brown with the oven broiler right before serving. I find that the panko bread crumbs give a better crunch without forming a heavy crust the way traditional bread crumbs do. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that my original mac and cheese recipe (and therefore this one, too) is derived from the 1997 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which was also my very first cookbook. My mom, on one of our many pre-college errands, let me pick out a cookbook before I left for school. Because I didn’t know anything about food back then other than I loved to eat it when it tasted really good, I picked Betty Crocker. Something tells me it has to do with the fact that I grew up on boxed cake mix and it’s still a secret guilty pleasure of mine.
See what I did there? I just admitted another thing that I’ll totally forget about, and I’m sure the next time one of you sees me out in public stuffing my face, you’ll probably remind me and my dinner companions that I used to eat artificial cake batter. Gah.
Some lessons, even after seven years, can’t be learned, I guess.
- 1 16-ounce package of elbow macaroni
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter plus 3 tablespoons melted
- 2 cups milk
- 12 ounces (approximately 1.5 cups) extra sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- salt and white pepper, to taste
- 1-2 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley (optional), minced
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 casserole dish with unsalted butter and set aside.
- Boil macaroni according to directions on package.
- Remove the macaroni from heat earlier than fully cooked (al dente or slightly more firm than that). Drain; do not rinse.
- While the macaroni is cooking, melt ½ cup butter on medium low heat. Once butter is melted and slightly bubbly, stir in flour until the mixture is smooth and bubbly.
- Slowly add milk, whisking vigorously the entire time.
- Turn up the heat to medium/medium high. Boil for one minute, stirring. This should form a
- thick sauce.
- Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat.
- Add cheese to the sauce, a little at a time, blending until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Add pasta and turn to coat.
- Pour pasta into a greased casserole dish. Mix 3 tablespoons melted butter with bread crumbs and sprinkle on top.
- Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes until bubbly. Turn the heat on the oven to a hi broil and set an oven timer for 2 minutes. Broil the top of the panko until it's slightly browned; you'll have to keep a careful eye on it to make sure that the panko doesn't scorch (it took my oven about 3-4 minutes, but I still set an oven timer in case I got distracted). Garnish with parsley (if using) and serve immediately.