Mexican No-Bake Macaroni and Cheese
One minute it was a balmy winter we were enjoying, and today we got smacked in the face with the cold that we had conveniently pushed out of our minds. It isn’t just cold, it’s frigid. Oh, I know, we’re wimps, according to our neighbours in Manitoba or Nunavut. But it’s cold enough that leaving the house today mean’t not worrying about whether we looked stylish, as long as we were warm! And to put it in perspective, it will get much colder before the season is over. And I promise not to whinge about the weather after today… hopefully.
One good thing about the cold, is that for all of us who live in condo apartments, and therefore don’t have the luxury of owning a basement or fruit cellar, we can store food outside on our balconies. Not that there are rows of pots or tupperware being kept there permanently. But remember that fabulous New You Bone Broth I was raving about the other day? Well, where do you think I was able to store a full pot of that goodness till I could get around to divvying it up into containers? Yep, out next to the BBQ. So this afternoon, I was able to skim off the layer of fat that had solidified on the top, and then get the rest into the freezer for safe keeping. I was even rewarded with enough left to fill one mug that I warmed up, and sipped on as I got other things done.
One of those things was butter duty. The other day we were in our big box store, and I found butter at a good deal- at least less than half the price of what the grocery stores are charging. I go through a ton of butter. So, the more budget-friendly, the better. There are two tricks that I’ve learned to do with a lowly brick of butter. One is to extend it for buttering toast etc by doing the following: Take half of the brick (1 cup; 1/2 lb; 226 g) and let it come to room temperature (overnight in a bowl or something). The next day, scoop it into a blender. Add the equal amount of a good quality grapeseed, sunflower, olive (lighter in flavour) or canola oil. Whip in the blender until completely blended together. Then pour this into your butter mold or other container. This will keep in the fridge, and it will never get too cold to spread on soft, fresh bread or toast etc (you know that awful experience of getting warm bread or rolls at a restaurant and you go to spread the butter on it, but you end up tearing that poor piece of baked goodness into a crumbly mess?!) And it tastes like butter (now I sound like a commercial!) You can use it for cooking, sautéing etc. I just wouldn’t use it for baking. Not only do you stretch the butter, but you get the health benefits of using a good oil as well. And never too hard! Straight from the fridge!
The other thing I do with butter is a little tedious. And makes me look really cheap. But it’s called frugal, okay?! You know those packages of the pre-cut and wrapped sticks of butter? And you know how they are always more expensive that a normal brick of butter? Well, I refuse to pay for the extra wrapping. So I take my butter and cut it into my own sticks. And then I wrap them in wax paper, and store them in the freezer. I will even cut some into half-sticks so that if a recipe calls for 1/2 a stick of butter, it’s all ready to go. Yay me!!
That kept me entertained for a while on this cold day. The other thing I thought about this afternoon between loads of laundry, was what to make for dinner. I was all set to do a fennel and potato braise with feta and blood oranges, but on such a cold day, it just didn’t seem right. Today deserved a ‘stick to your ribs’ comfort food kind of dinner. And since it’s Monday, I had chosen to forgo any meat for the meal. What to make, what to make? Got it, Mac ‘n Cheese! Because we’re all big kids at heart. I have the most fabulous recipe for a No-Bake version cut out from one of my older Bon Appetit magazines. And through the years, of course, I have played with it. We really like Mexican spices and flavours, so now I often Mex-ify this dish. And that’s what was ready for Jim when he came home. As we were eating, he said, “I could have this once a week.” And I thought, ‘Yeah, but my hips can’t!’ And now this evening, I will be on the treadmill breaking even from dinner!
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, divided in half
- 1/4 cup AP flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked pepper
- 2 tsp Mexican or Tex-Mex spice blend (or a combo of cumin, chilli, oregano, coriander)
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (or Monterey Jack, or combo thereof!)
- 1 tbsp and 1 tsp jalapeño, fresh or pickled, chopped and divided (more if you like it spicier)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 cup Panko or fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp cilantro, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400F
- Melt 1/4 cup of the butter in a large saucepan over med-high heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, whisking often until a thin glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper and Mexican seasonings. Remove from heat.
- Toss the pasta, 1.5 cups of the cheese and 1tbsp of the chopped jalapeño in a 13x9x2" baking pan or other shallow 3 quart dish. I always lightly grease mine first.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta. Pasta should be submerged. Do not stir. Cover with foil and bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, panko, parsley and cilantro. Toss to combine. Add the remaining jalapeño. Season with a bit more salt and pepper.
- Remove pan from the oven. Remove the foil. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and the bread mixture. Bake uncovered until pasta is tender, the edges are bubbling and the top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
- I will add more heat with red chilli if I have it in the house. If you can find the bags of pre-shredded Tex-Mex cheese with the bits of hot pepper flakes in it, that is even better- is more heat really an issue!?