Individual Macaroni and Cheese

Individual Macaroni and Cheese

It’s one of Nature’s little ironies that come Winter, it get’s cold, and our dining habits change to go with the chilly climate.

That doesn’t mean to say we instinctively know what to cook in cold weather to add warmth and comfort.  It would, for example, be rather pointless to serve a cold salad for dinner on a day when the temperature outside is far below freezing. Rather, we need to adjust the seasons, not only the seasonings.

Better choices for colder weather include hot soups, chilis, stews, pot pies, hot pasta dishes, warm breakfasts and even warmer beverages.  Instead of a sandwich of cold cuts for lunch, why not try a cup of soup or a stew with the meat cut in small pieces, so it’s easier to eat with just a spoon?

Dinner always presents a challenge and in these financially difficult times, compounded with colder weather, we’re often faced with tough choices. So let’s try some economical recipes that can stretch out your food budget, warm your family and put smiles on everyone’s faces?

Some dishes that come to mind include Macaroni and Cheese. Now most people today make this out of a box, but making it the old-fashioned way is not hard at all. Try this recipe:

Macaroni and Cheese

butter for pan
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 Cups dried macaroni (1/2 pound large elbow macaroni)
1 Tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

For the sauce:
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
2 1/2 Cups milk, warmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
2 1/2 Cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 Cup fresh bread crumbs
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces

1. Preheat an oven to 375F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or glass pyrex.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a rapid boil and add the salt. Add the macaroni and stir to separate, then cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until slightly soft to the bite, or according to package directions, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse with cool water to remove the excess starch. Place in a large mixing bowl. Toss with oil and set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium to low heat, melt the remaining butter. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and stir to mix well. Cook, stirring all the time, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the flour is well absorbed and the mixture is gently bubbling and golden. Add the warm milk gradually, continuing to stir all the time, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue to cook until the white sauce is smooth and slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cup cheese, remove from the heat and whisk constantly until the cheese is completely melted. Stir in the salt, pepper, mustard, and parsley. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and mix to combine.

4. Transfer the macaroni to the greased baking dish. In a small bowl combine the remaining 3/4 cup grated cheese and the bread crumbs and sprinkle on top of the macaroni in an even layer. Dot with the butter and bake uncovered, for about 25-30 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and beginning to form a crust. Be very careful not to let the crumbs burn. Let the dish stand for 5 minutes before serving.

This extra cheesy macaroni will please the kid in everyone. You can try other melting cheeses to vary the flavor like fresh goat cheese or different varieties of cheddar cheese. The adventurous cook might try adding 1/2 cup small cubes of ham, 1/3 blanched frozen peas, or 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil.

Another superb recipe for wintry nights is chili like this one…

Chunky Chili

1 Tablespoon canola oil, divided
Cooking spray
1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Cups chopped onion
1/2 Cup chopped green bell pepper
1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeno pepper
2/3 Cup Cabernet Sauvignon or dry red wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ancho chile pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can hot chili beans

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Sprinkle beef with salt. Place half of beef in pan; saute 8 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining beef; remove from pan.

Add 2 teaspoons oil, onion, and bell pepper to pan, and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno; saute for 1 minute. Add wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Return beef to pan.

Stir in remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.

We have many more wonderful recipes for Winter-time cooking and have recently created a recipe category for the seasons. Visit that category here.

Some other creative ideas for you to try might be authentic Italian Manicotti. Not that frozen stuff you buy in the supermarket, but the real deal. Italians make manicotti shells as crepes, not pasta dough. Once made, they’re stuffed with a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, eggs and herbs, blended, then rolled. Each rolled manicotti is placed in a pan spread with tomato sauce, then topped with more sauce, a sprinkling of mozzarella and Parmiggiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese, and baked.

You might try making lasagna, or our recipe for 20 Minute Hamburger Skillet Stew, just to name a couple… There are millions of choices, and we have thousands of recipes to choose from, with many more on the way.<

In the meantime, think warm thoughts, enjoy a cup of hot tea or cocoa and browse for great cooking ideas.

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