Her style right now is what I like to call Toddler Bohemian--a mix of prints and colors that don't necessarily always go together. I'm learning to accept it but it does drive me nuts when she doesn't match, but it's not every day that she protests so much. So, next time you see my kid, rest assured, I know how to match clothes and hair accessories, but at this time, I'm slightly powerless and matching isn't on her radar. I've decided to choose my battles wisely.
It feels slightly wrong to "complain" about this when I know she gets her headstrong nature from me (and no doubt it will be beneficial later in life). Her father on the other hand is one of those Peace at Any Price kind of personalities so yeah, totally.all.my.fault. Add in some timely toddler stubbornness and we've got spunky one on our hands. Thankfully, she's learned to say "please", "thank you", and "you're welcome" in the right context which tempers my frustration a bit. I'm a sucker (and stickler) for good manners like that.
One thing I still have a little control over in this toddler world is my kitchen. Well, all the drawers and cupboards that are higher than 2.5 feet anyway. I wanted to make a warm and homey kind of side dish for a little Halloween party we went to over the weekend. My recent tried and true recipe just wasn't doing it for me anymore. You know how you make a dish a couple times and each consecutive time it seems just a bit more lackluster than the last? I liked my previous recipe mainly because you didn't have to cook the noodles before you bake it. I know, what a great feature! And it contained a nice mix of dairy for my not so milk enthusiastic child. But it wasn't perfect because reheating it became kind of gross.
Martha to the rescue, naturally. I felt like she wouldn't steer me wrong. She didn't. It was quite a bit fussy since it requires making a béchamel sauce to incorporate the cheese into AND cooking the noodles first, but the result was creamy and super cheesy. It reheated really nicely—the little bit that was left, anyway. So no big puddle of cheese grease when you reheat this one! I'm not sure if the kids were all about it since it wasn't orange, but the adults seemed to think it was good. And my blue-box- mac-n-cheese preferrin' husband said this one actually impressed him. Well how 'bout that!
This makes a large batch-fitting nicely into a 9x13 baking dish. Halve the recipe for a batch that serves 6 as a side dish. Would make a nice pairing with some steamed green beans or broccoli--it really does deserve some green to go along with it.
Toddler Halloween Party Macaroni and Cheese
(or for the rest of the world: Martha Stewart's Creamy Macaroni and Cheese)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces (I pulsed 4 slices of wheat bread in the food processor and it was plenty)
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (omitted due to lack of nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyere (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.