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Monday, March 7, 2011

Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese

Long ago and far away, there lived a working mother who wanted to serve her children well-balanced meals, on a tight food budget and an even tighter schedule. Over the years, she developed a lot of ideas and techniques that helped her kids learn to really like vegetables, to come to expect more meatless days than not, and to understand why their Mom's shopping list never included soda. (That is not to say they didn't use some of their first paper route earnings to go out and splurge on a few Big Gulps!) Much of what I learned in those early years is what I hope is helping anyone reading this blog now and again.

Early on, I learned that the "best" nutrients in carrots were generally more available to the human body when the carrots were cooked. I didn't stop serving carrot sticks, but I did begin adding cooked carrots as a side dish to many meals. This, however, was not a very popular option. Plain old steamed carrots just weren't anybody's favorite vegetable. But then I served them one day with some creamy macaroni and cheese, and the kids ate them up, sloshed as they were with the cheesy sauce. To be sure that the ratio of carrots to cheese and macaroni was what I wanted it to be, the next time I served mac and cheese, I cooked the carrots and stirred them into the pasta dish before serving. A quizzical look here and there, but soon that became "the way" we had this dish.

Fast forward a few years. My oldest grandson was still in his toddler years when I visited their home in another state. Looking for a quick meal before going off to some fun family thing, I offered to make mac and cheese. There was elbow macaroni on the shelf and some Velveeta in the refrigerator (the very quickest way to make this dish, even if it is not the foody purist's preference), but not a carrot to be found. The good news was that a bag of frozen peas lurked in the back of the freezer, so we were set. I put water on to boil for the pasta, found some nonfat dry milk powder to up the calcium content a bit, and in a few minutes the main dish was done. A couple of tomatoes were sliced to add color and variation to each plate and a well-balanced meal was ready.

As basic as that "recipe" was, it soon became known as "Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese" and was an asked-for dish each time I visited. I still find it a great go-to meal if one or more of the kids happen to be here for a last-minute lunch. A "recipe" follows.

Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese

2 c elbow macaroni--or any other fun shape of similar sized pasta you might have around (colored rotini is a special favorite)
2 to 3 oz Velveeta, sliced or cut into cubes
1/4 c nonfat dried milk (optional)
12 ounces frozen peas (broccoli, cooked carrots, mixed vegetables, etc., may be substituted), unthawed
freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook the macaroni as directed on the package until just done. Drain, leaving a tablespoon or so of the water in the pan. Stir in the Velveeta and dried milk into the pasta in the pan, mixing until well-blended and smooth. Turn burner to low, add the frozen vegetables and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, just until the vegetables are fully heated.

Alternatively, the drained pasta, cheese, dried milk, and frozen vegetables can be turned into a microwave safe bowl and put in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables are hot.

This also works for leftover vegetables of any kind. Just stir them in as with frozen vegetables, shortening the heating time accordingly.

(Pasta purists may want to stop reading now, but, if your family is like ours, you might want to serve this with ketchup and/or salsa.)

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