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12/07/2015

~ Dad's Mac & Cheese, or: What I Cook Just for Me ~

PICT2687This isn't the recipe I planned to post today, but, it's what I'm cooking today, so, why not take a few photos along the way and type a few words too -- it's easy for me to do.  Joe is traveling, so, what I eat on this day is all about me, and coincidentally, while entertaining some friends on Saturday, I got asked, "when you're not cooking for the blog or TV, what do you cook just for you?"  It's not the first time I've been asked this, and, my answer is always the same:  "Most times I just make a sandwich or nuke some homemade soup (which require no actual cooking), but, when I want to get out a pot and place it on the stovetop, I treat myself to something special."

PICT2693My Dad's "Eastern Europe meets America" mac & cheese!

Vintage-boxWhen I was growing up in the 1960's and '70's, mom and dad both worked and dad did his share of the cooking and housework -- imagine that.  When dad was pressed to get lunch or dinner prepared for us in a hurry (in between lots of family and school activities), he would make this "Eastern Europe meets America" version of mac & cheese, and, my brother and I adored it. 

In terms of macaroni and cheese, this one is "off the beaten path".  Given the time period, it's downright renegade.  My dad was/is not a card-carrying member of the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese generation. He is a member of the "I don't eat fake-looking, orange-colored food" society.  I was twenty-something before I tasted boxed mac & cheese, and while I didn't hate it, I sure didn't love it. Despite a TV that told me "America spells cheese K-R-A-F-T", and, "it's the cheesiest", I was never sold on anyones powdered cheese or "cheese-feed" concoctions.

PICT2697My dad's mac & cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni.  His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder to come by)  literally bursts with flavor.   

If you can't quite grasp the concept of hot and cold in in the same bowl, please rethink your position.  Resist every urge to heat or melt the cottage cheese, or, God forbid, create a baked casserole out of this recipe (which actually might be good but totally misses the point).  

This meatless meal is wonderful just as it is, but, if you happen to have a tomato and/or some fresh parsley, don't hesitate to chop either or both and toss them in at the end as well!

PICT26851  pound elbow macaroni

4  ounces salted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature (1 stick)

1/2-3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon salt, more or less, to taste

1/2-3/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste

12 ounces, large-curd cottage cheese, somewhat cold (Note:  Just before you are ready to start boiling the water for the pasta, remove the cottage cheese from the refrigerator and set it aside.  At serving time, it will be cold, but not ice cold.)

4-6 small, peeled, seeded and diced Campari tomatoes (optional)

1/4-1/2  cup minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional), for topping

additional crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish

PICT2686~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer to a colander.

PICT2688Drain well and return hot pasta to still warm stockpot on still warm stovetop.  Immediately:

PICT2689~ Step 2.  Add the butter, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes. Using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated.

PICT2695~ Step 3. Add the cottage cheese in spoonfuls, along with the optional Parm-Regg, and lightly toss, just to distribute cheeses throughout pasta.  

Toss in optional diced tomato and/or minced parsley too.  EAT!  

PICT2698Dad's Mac & Cheese, or:  What I Cook Just for Me:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander

PICT2687Cook's Note:  The first time I served this dish to Joe (almost 35 years ago), he looked at me like a man who was ready to rethink his recent Brady-Bunch marriage to me.  Our three kids were in bed and we were up very late listening to one of his favorite shows, Austin City Limits. After a few bites, he proceeded to eat the better part of the entire pot. Nowadays, he just says "Honey, wanna make your dad's macaroni?"

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

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