When we first started dating, Andrew could cook pancakes, his family's Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and his favorite food, macaroni and cheese (from a box). He cooked each of these dishes for me during our first few weeks together. He gussied up his boxed mac and cheese with fancy aged cheese, green chile, and bacon. At the time, I barely knew how to cook much more than him, but I was confident that I could make macaroni and cheese from scratch.
I was new to cooking, wasn't following a recipe and didn't really understand the power of minced garlic. I had bought a jar of pre-minced garlic and I added a few small spoonfuls to the noodles before I baked the mac and cheese. I dished up and told Andrew to go ahead and start eating as I finished the salad. I sat down next to him after he had had his first bite. He gave me a big smile and said it tasted great. I took one bite, and said, "I think this is way too garlicky. I don't know if I can eat this." At which point he said, "Oh thank god, I didn't know if I could eat this either." I wrapped up the pan of macaroni and cheese and put it in the fridge, and we went for pizza instead. The next day I pulled the pan out, and I considered throwing it away. I really didn't want to eat this macaroni and cheese.
Have you ever cooked food that turned out so terrible you had to throw it out? It kills me to be wasteful and not eat something that I've cooked. It has only happened a handful of times that I will throw food out - a ginger carrot soup and sweet and sour chicken are the only two I can think of off the top of my head. If I make something I don't like, I'll usually eat it anyway so as not to be wasteful.
I ended up eating the entire pan of garlicky mac and cheese by myself. Luckily the garlic was less potent cold.
This week, ten years later, I made a different pan of mac and cheese to celebrate Andrew's birthday. It is still his favorite food, and while I've tried different recipes over the years, this one is easy and always good. The recipe below is for the full 12 servings, but I usually cut it in half when I make it. Six servings of cheesy pasta is enough for me in a week, although my husband may disagree... I also like to add green chile to give it a kick.
Macaroni and Cheese
6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 cup roasted green chile, chopped (optional)
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce. Add green chile.
Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.