Essential Mac and Cheese

I’m going to level with you guys – last week was all fun and games with the elaborate frosting techniques, but, much like Icarus, I have flown too close to the sun, and by “flown” I mean “walked” and by “the sun” I mean “the ground”. Did you guys know I walked OUTSIDE? To get VACCINATED? That was a mistake on my part (the walking, not the vaccination).  I’m ready for the peg leg. I could switch it out for a wheel when I need to go fast, or a ski in the wintertime. If you have working feet and ankles, give them a little smooch. Moving around is a privilege, not a right.

Long story short, it’s getting very Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine in here. (Grandma Josephine is what I call the pile of sixteen pillows I use to keep this foot elevated.) It’s like for the home stretch (hopefully?) of pandemic quarantine existence I get to do it on Turbo Mode.

So, as I write you this from my 1930’s baby cage, we’re gonna talk about something I don’t have to get up and go make, because I’ve made it a billion times before. We’re making it in the glorious kitchen wing of my mind-palace, which looks exactly like Ina Garten’s kitchen in the Hamptons. We’re making mac and cheese.

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Midnight Pasta

Whenever my dad goes out of town, my mom makes something called Snaffles Mousse, which is the drag queen who gets kicked off Drag Race UK in week one a military-grade garlic dip pungent enough to kill a vampiric horse. Eat it on Ruffles, or use it to fumigate your house!

Many of us grew up with a healthy fear of Too Much Garlic, but I don’t live that life anymore. This spaghetti made me rethink my entire relationship to the garlic arts. Welcome to the Cult of the Midnight Pasta. We have fabulous robes, and we don’t care what our breath is like.

This recipe comes from Ina Garten, but you can find versions of it everywhere. It’s called midnight pasta, because apparently it’s the comfort food chefs make for themselves when they get home at 3am after a 15-hour shift. It’s middle-of-the-night-staring-into-the-fridge food. It’s macaroni and cheese if you’re fancy as hell. It’s butter noodles on steroids. And it uses an entire head of garlic.

Best of all, it takes literally 20 minutes, and it makes a sensational frittata for lunch the next day. Like nearly all good pasta sauces, it’s thrown together quickly with stuff you have around. It’s Italian stir-fry. All you need is parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic, and parmesan.

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Classic Carrot Soup

People always want to jazz up carrot soup with something – cilantro or red pepper or orange or parsnip or curry – to distract you from the fact that carrots are “boring”. I hate this.

There is a difference between boring and familiar! They’ve got depth, they’re sweet, they’re a fun color!! Justice for Carrots!

Carrot soup is one of my favorite party tricks because, like most of the things I am sharing with you, it is both tremendously good and extremely easy.

Chop some carrots, let them hang out, drunk on a little sherry, with a softened, buttery onion in a saucepan sauna for an hour, and they will mellow out into a deep, rich, almost jammy sweetness that is the base of honestly probably my favorite soup.

For those of you playing along at home, that’s a whopping 5 ingredients to make a tastier, more satisfying soup than I’ve ever been served at a restaurant.

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Simple Summer Salad + French Vinaigrette

Vegetables. Even the word is high-maintenance. Other food groups have simple, iconic, one-syllable names, like Cher.  Fruit. Meat. Bread. Cheese.  You expect me to chew my way through the entirety of “vegetable”? I’m already exhausted.

Salad can be such a bummer. Bad salad tastes like licking a hedge clipper and feels like a punishment, and yet people eat it all the time.

I used to bring those pre-washed bagged salad mixes to school as preteen, as if middle school isn’t miserable enough already. Stabbing a plastic fork into a bag of tough, bitter “spring mix” covered in enough ranch to kill a horse is a sensation I think we should all leave behind us as we age, like Linkin Park and studded belts.

Really good salads are usually full of things that aren’t salad – meats and croutons and cheeses and interesting nuts. You think people are going to Sweetgreen for the kale?

And listen, I’ve made a Sweetgreen harvest bowl at home from scratch. Technically, it’s possible. But by hour 4, after roasting a chicken and two sweet potatoes, making brown rice, chopping apples and massaging kale and sprinkling chopped almonds and forgetting to not eat the goat cheese, I’ve determined that only Olympic athletes and the guy from Free Solo have the stamina to do this on a regular basis.

Actually delicious, lick-the-bowl-clean make-at-home salad is possible, and it doesn’t involve trying to keep an entire 50-garnish salad bar alive in your fridge.

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Foolproof Stovetop Popcorn

I am in no position to dispense advice this week. I’m writing this to you with my right wrist in a brace because I typed at a dumb angle for two hours straight yesterday and now I have tennis elbow despite never ever having played “tennis” in my entire life. I don’t want to cook anything, cooking is dumb and for suckers. I can’t believe my flesh prison is doing this to me four months before I turn 30, existence is meaningless, etc.

When I’m in this mood, reclining on my divan (couch) in my satin smoking jacket (ancient robe) and slippers (slippers), I like to make myself what I call Snack Dinner, or Charcuterie for Bums.

Charcuterie for Bums is every snack food I can get my hands on that has some modicum of protein or nutritional value and doesn’t involve actual cooking. This includes but is not limited to: apples and peanut butter, cheese and crackers, carrots and ranch, slim jims, pretzels, salami, etc. The only thing I will turn the stove on for is popcorn.

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Easy Cheesy Frittata

Quitters never win, but sometimes winners make the entire package of pasta out of sheer noodle-based gluttony and then, well, what are you going to do with half a pound of perfectly good cacio e pepe? Throw it out? Give up on your dreams?

Meet Frittata.

This is a joke about the Train song “Meet Virginia”, which is funny only to me. Move along, nothing to see here.

Fritatta is something I can never spell right on the first try, but it just means “fried” in Italian. The Pinterest People are posting recipes for “easy frittata” that start with frying bacon and wilting spinach and chopping healthy things like butternut squash and beets and arugula, but to me a frittata is always the answer to “how can I de-sog this pasta”, and also “how can I make something tasty in 15 minutes or less without trying that hard.”

Fritattas where you have to do a bunch of work are, not to put too fine a point on it, dumb. I’m not chopping extra stuff or finishing anything under the broiler to make what is essentially a glorified omelette. Fritattas are about two things: the cheap thrill of successfully flipping an entire pan of leftover pasta, and elevating your sad soggy leftovers into a crispy treat.

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Golden Latkes

Fried potato is one of the most delicious things you can eat, but I understand not wanting to make potato pancakes from scratch. When hours of work can turn so easily into nothing but grey-brown lumps of sadness and broken dreams, I fully understand the urge to rip off all your clothes and take to the hills, screaming, to live out the rest of your days as a hermit. Or at least, to run out to the store, pick up a pack of frozen hash-browns and call it a day.

And frozen hash-browns are delicious. They were a staple of my college dining hall brunch buffet, and they’re the one frozen potato product sold in the UK that doesn’t suck. (Why is this? This is a largely potato-based culture, you’d think they’d have it figured out by now.) But they are not the same as latkes. Hash-browns are for hangovers, and latkes are for joy.

Latkes are for special occasions. Latkes are for celebrating how great life is and how lucky we are to be living it. Your first thought on eating a latke should be “I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe I actually get to eat this. I need 5 more of these, immediately.”

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