Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Comfort Food for Phillies Fans

For most of my life our hometown baseball team, the Phillies, has been less than successful. They won the World Series in 1980, but I was too young to really appreciate this occasion. And they were pretty good in the early 1990s, but I was too busy going to college and stuff to focus on anything other than myself. But since Dave and I got together, I have discovered my inner fan. Unlike me, Dave has been a lifelong Phils champion - through the good and the bad, he has stuck with his team. So it has been especially gratifying for him to see the team become so successful. (We would be remiss if we did not notice that the Phillies return to the post-season coincided with our move back to the Philadelphia area. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I like to think that our return to the "homeland" has helped bring the good vibes back to the Fightin' Phils. Maybe they just needed a few more cheering fans within 20 miles of their ballpark to push them over the edge to greatness?)

Being a true Philadelphia sports fan, the resurgence of his home team has been a bit of mixed blessing for Dave. On the one hand, he loves to see the guys win the big games, but on the other hand, watching their games in the playoffs has become a kind of torture for him. Dave is the most mild-mannered guy...unless his team is in a big game, and then he morphs into a crazed, couch punching, profanity spewing, version of himself. I have learned to accept this psycho Dave during the playoffs. (Watching his dad watch the Phils, I can see that Dave comes by his multiple-sports-personality disorder naturally. Remarkably, they are both even worse when the Flyers are in the playoffs.) In a way, it is sort of cute. Plus it gives me so many opportunities to tease him. And to his credit, Dave will often say, "I realize that I am not very fun to be around right now."

So in a stressful playoff run, what my man needs is some comfort food. For the last several years, it has become our family tradition to have a "Picnic" dinner if the game time coincides with our meal time. Tonight is one of those nights. The dinner of choice: Macaroni and cheese. It soothes the soul of even the most insane Phils fan, my kids love it, it's easy to make and easy to eat in front of the TV.

There are some great mac and cheese recipes out there, and I have tried a bunch of them. Ann Hodgman's macaroni and cheese from Wondertime Magazine was delicious. (You gotta love a food writer who includes this in her article: "If you want to win a recipe contest, consider adding a little bacon.")

My mother in law has made the Creamy Four Cheese Macaroni from Cooking Light to great acclaim. She brought this dish of this yumminess to us right after Kara was born. I don't think mac & cheese ever tasted as good as it did to my ravenous, nursing, sleep-deprived self.

Ree Drummond's website, Pioneer Woman, has many mac and cheese recipes. I particularly like the Simple Macaroni and Cheese.

These recipes are all great, but more often than not, I just make it up, following a few principles:
  •  Start with good noodles. I tend to like regular elbow macaroni, not whole wheat, for a traditional mac. When it is done cooking, use a pyrex measuring cup to scoop out a cup or so of starchy cooking water. This is great to have in case you have to thin out your pasta and sauce once it is combined.
  • Any cheese is good cheese. Fancy cheese like Gruyere, Parmesan, goat cheese, are all delicious. But the every day stuff like cheddar, American and, yes, Velveeta, are fabulous. Whatever your feelings about processed cheese products, I highly recommend setting them aside when making macaroni and cheese from scratch.
  • I start with a roux - about a tablespoon of butter melted with a tablespoon or so of flour - and slowly add a couple of cups of milk (whole milk if you have it works best) and stir with a whisk until it thickens. Then add a couple of cups of grated cheese. Pour the sauce over cooked noodles, spoon into baking pan, sprinkle bread crumbs on top and bake for 30 min or until brown and bubbly. 
  • If you are going to go through the "trouble" of making a batch of mac and cheese, make extra. It freezes really well and you'll be glad to have it for the next time you, or your rabid sports-loving man, are in need of some comfort food.

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