We’ve all had those days, nights, weeks, months, years, and whatnot where we just need a feel-good meal. A lot of people take comfort in food. They enjoy it, crave it. It makes them happy, sad, satisfied, confused. Good food is meant to elicit emotion. Food speaks to 4, sometimes all 5, of our senses. We cannot help but associate memories with it. Many times, it is food like this which is seen in a negative light. As resolutions are partaken, lifestyle choices enacted and more, we feel guilty enjoying these memory meals. We feel so bad, we call them guilty pleasures. I am here to tell you to stop feeling guilty. Your mental health and well-being need just as much taking care of as your physical well-being. And as much as self-control and restraint are necessary to make big changes, there isn’t a plan which cuts out everything we love. It’s all about enjoying in moderation.
Yesterday, I needed a comfort food dinner. We are a week away from finals, 2 days away from a three-day weekend, and frankly, teachers are probably more burned out than the kids. So I made mac ‘n cheese. And I enjoyed it. And it had bacon in it. And I don’t feel guilty. I even had a cannoli for dessert. And I got to read a book for enjoyment. There was no guilt here. This delicious mac ‘n cheese is decadent, cheesy, hearty, and good for the soul. All this recipe credit goes to my mom. She is my cooking inspiration, my starting point, my sounding board, and fellow recipe collector. One of the gifts she assembled for me when I got my first apartment was a collection of favorite recipes from her books so that I could make my comfort food for myself. If it passed her test, it has to be a good recipe. Try it- you earned it.
Delicious, Grown Up, Mac ‘N Cheese
- 1 box cavatappi pasta
- 6 slices of bacon, diced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
- 1 bag (1/2lb) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup colby-jack cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese
- 8 slices American singles, shredded into large pieces
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.
- Heat a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Cook the pasta 8 minutes and drain.
- Meanwhile, heat a saucepan over medium heat and render the bacon until crispy. Once crisp, remove to a paper towel to drain.
- In the same saucepan, reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat (remove additional if needed) and add the tablespoon of butter. Mix the flour into this and whisk until smooth.
- Once smooth, add the milk in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Once incorporated, add the onion, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes.
- Mix the cheddar, Colby jack, and mozzarella cheese together in a bowl with the bacon.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, and mix in the Kraft singles. Do this in waves, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. After all the singles are incorporated, add 1 1/4 cup of the mixed cheeses to the sauce as well.
- Mix the pasta and cheese sauce together in the pasta pot.
- Layer the dish: start with half the noodle mixture on the bottom. Add half the cheddar mixture, then the rest of the noodles, then the rest of the cheese.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Let it cool a few minutes before digging in.