our friend taryn came over for a sleepover last night. i have mentioned before how much we enjoy her company. she's good with everyone in our family and plays with ander as a cherished sibling, much like diana does, so he was just as excited as diana to have her over.
i tried something new-ish for dinner. diana has complimented my homemade mac and cheese, rating it at least as good as the trader joe's rice pasta version, and we were having a guest, so i thought it would go over well. my variation - an experiment - was amazing. even ander ate it, and the rest of us had seconds (or thirds, but who's counting?)
dawn's magnificence-n-cheese (diana came up with the name. she's so good at that)
1 pound elbow pasta
8 oz cream cheese (the real stuff, not the light version)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese (i had vermont sharp on hand, but any that suit your taste will do)
2 cups milk
3 tblsp butter
3 tblsp flour
prepared dry mustard
freshly ground salt and pepper
cook pasta as directed, probably al dente at most, as it will cook more in the oven. drain and set aside. prepare a serving of mustard, which is basically stirring in equal parts of the powdered dry mustard and cold water and let it sit to attain maximum potency. melt butter in a nonstick pot and whisk in flour to make a nice roux. whisk in milk. gently whisk in cream cheese. heat this just enough to melt but not past the beginning of a boil or it may burn, and keep stirring, for goodness' sake. add shredded cheddar cheese and stir. add extra sharp cheese and stir. if it's in block form, as mine was, break it into chunks to aid in melting process. finally, add in the prepared mustard and salt and pepper to taste. mix sauce and pasta and pour into 9x13-ish sized stoneware pan (i only bake in pampered chef stoneware if i can possibly help it).
now for my special twist to accommodate various preferences in one pan. leave alone one quarter. on another quarter, top with panko (japanese bread crumbs). believe me, they are better than your run-of-the-mill bread crumbs. over the remaining half, add pork. i had intended bacon but didn't have any, so i used leftover pieces of the pork shoulder roast i used in the new year's hoppin john which was oh-so-tender and very tasty. then, generously cover the pork with fried onions from trader joe's. do not use french's french fried onions. i know that's what we grew up with for the traditional holiday green bean casserole but trader joe's does something amazing, like use real onions or something, and we like them so much we eat them straight out of the can. ahem.
bake, uncovered, in 400 F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until you smell and/or see the onions getting brown.
serve it on china. yes, china. why? why not? what is your wedding china for, except to serve special meals, like when a guest comes over? and you want your guest to feel at home, so you treat them as you would family, and if a guest is worth using your china, your family is, too. when we moved into our dream home in california, we unpacked the china we had kept in boxes for forever and started using it for sunday dinners in addition to other occasions. why wait? when we moved here to virginia, the china was included among the other kitchen items requiring unpacking in our rental home, rather than stay in storage, unused, unloved, unremembered. why wait? i'm not waiting. i'm embracing.
our guests are worth it. our family is worth it. i'm worth it. allons-y!