One balmy California night, while I was still a bright-eyed young high-schooler, a revelation splashed upon me, like the water from a boiling-over pasta pot: Not everyone cooks.
I was at a friend’s house, and we were making pasta for dinner. Her method of boiling water? Wait until it boils over, foaming everywhere. “That’s how you know it’s boiled!” she said.
I was shocked. My friend could do physics problems I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around, but she didn’t know her way around her own kitchen.
Cooking is essential to my sense of well-being. I’m a recovered picky eater, who learned to channel irrational anxieties about food—and dislikes that still persist—into a resolve to master the perfect risotto.
It’s easy to be a foodie where I’m from, the Bay Area. It’s harder, I found, in Hanover, New Hampshire. I don’t mean to run down DDS, but my freshman year, I became a Sustainable Living Center/off-campus-house groupie, crashing upperclassmen’s kitchens for my own nefarious, quinoa-cooking purposes. I moved off campus as soon as I could, ostensibly to have a full kitchen at my disposal.
But through several off-terms spent in tiny apartments, I’ve realized I judged the dorms too soon. There’s a lot one can do with a matchbox-size kitchen and two pans scrounged from the thrift store.
If you don’t know how to boil water yet, I’m not judging you. I want to help you. I want to help you because I want you to know that when you graduate and become that elusive entity, the so-called ‘real person,’ you’re perfectly capable of feeding yourself in a healthy, complete and delicious way. You can do it on a budget, with minimal time, and without relying on processed foods. And I think if you try it, you’ll find cooking your own food delicious and immensely rewarding.
If you already chose Dartmouth over the Culinary Institute of America, sit tight. Though this column will primarily focus on easy weekday meals, there are some epic, dinner-party-worthy spreads that I know, from personal experience, can be pulled off in a tiny kitchen.
But for now, we’ll start small. If you’ve only ever made macaroni and cheese from a box, a huge surprise awaits you. The following recipe is the one I grew up with, and I got it from — who else? — my mother.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
You will need:
*At least half a grocery-store wedge of cheese (this translates to about a cup, shredded, but I find wedge-visuals easier to understand). If you don’t have enough of a single type, don’t worry— the greater variety of cheese you use, the better. I like a very sharp cheddar and a nice aged parmesan, but work with what you’ve got. Mac n’ cheese cravings often do not wait for a trip to the grocery store.
* Milk- I like to use whole, to make the sauce creamier, but again, work with what you’ve got. Get the milk out of the fridge now so that it’s room temperature when you use it in the recipe.
*Dijon mustard—this is what elevates the dish beyond melted cheese and into sophistication.
* A few tablespoons of flour—this is for texture. If you don’t have it, your Mac n’ Cheese will still taste great, but the sauce will be a bit runnier.
* Pasta (of course).
Make the sauce while the pasta is cooking (if you don’t know how to cook pasta, blitz me. I’ll help you, and I promise not to laugh at you).
The first step for the sauce is to make a roux (a sauce base). It’s easier than it sounds. The classic ratio is one tablespoon butter to one tablespoon flour, but my mother likes a runnier sauce, so we use two tablespoon butter to one tablespoon flour. Heat the butter until it begins to bubble, and keep the pan on a simmer (low-ish heat). Add the flour and whisk (or stir with a fork) until well-mixed, somewhat like a paste. This is the roux, and it determines the texture of the sauce to come.
Now add a half-teaspoon (or a squirt) of Dijon mustard. Keep the heat on medium to low. Next, add a cup of milk (room temperature is best—cold milk may cause the sauce to lump). Grate in half a cup of cheddar and a quarter cup of parmesan (or whatever cheese rinds you have lying around!) Stir as the cheese melts in; if it’s melting very slowly, turn up the heat a bit. Taste frequently to determine if the sauce is cheesy enough for you. Once you have a creamy texture you’re satisfied with, pour the sauce over the drained pasta.
I guarantee this is worth the extra work.
Tags: cheese, cooking, culinary, dds, Laura Bryn Sisson, mac and cheese, recipes