How…why….does one find oneself baking Bittman’s macaroni and cheese in a 425° oven on a 100° day when there is a perfectly fine box of 10-minute stovetop Annie’s Mac & Cheese in the pull-out pantry? It seemed so logical the day before when I made dinner plans out with my friend Elizabeth and her husband. I had a babysitter booked so I suggested they drop their kids at our place while the four grown-ups went out to a local Italian spot. I’ll make sure there’s dinner here for the kids, I offered. “George likes macaroni and cheese, right?”
“It’s his favorite thing,” said Elizabeth.
It’s not that I like Elizabeth more than most of my friends, but…well, maybe I do. And maybe that’s why, when she and her husband come over, I find myself splurging for the truffled Pecorino on the cheese plate instead of the aged gouda, or going out of my way to track down the delicate farmer’s market kale instead of the tougher Stop-and-Shoppy kind. Do you have friends like this? Who you want to impress? I mean, Who bring out the best in you? Everybody does, right? This is what I convinced myself when I was whisking up the bechamel at 5:00, boiling gemelli, cranking my oven past the 400-degree mark — because apparently 15 out of 20 days over 90 degrees in New York has not been hot enough for me. But, I have to say, 45 minutes later I did have a damn good looking baking dish of golden, bubbly mac-and-cheese to serve Elizabeth’s boys. So what if Elizabeth herself wouldn’t be eating it — she would see my macaroni magnum opus when she dropped them off and…I had to wonder where this thought was leading me. She’d see it and…what? Like me more? Seriously. Why? What the…? Who am I cooking for? What am I trying to prove? What is wrong with women? I don’t know a single man who would find himself in this position. Do you?
I got a call right before Elizabeth was due at my house. She was running late at work so her babysitter would drop the boys off and she would meet us at the restaurant. “Hope that’s OK!”
No. Nothing about this was OK. At all.
Mac & Cheese Notes
I follow Bittman’s recipe to the letter. Except at the end, I use my friend Kate’s trick and crumble potato chips into the bread crumb topping. Also, I like prepping the M&C in advance when I’m entertaining families — it’s a nice “bridge” dish that can be the main for the kids and a side for the grown-ups. (Especially if BBQ chicken is on the menu.) Just prepare until the point where you top with bread crumbs, then refrigerate, pull out about an hour before you want to serve, and continue with instructions.