Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: Make this now, so you can feel nostalgic about it later.
Is there a food more emblematic of the modern American childhood than macaroni and cheese?
You could make a case for chicken nuggets. But very little else. Goldfish crackers? Chocolate milk? Benadryl?
Kraft introduced its macaroni and cheese in 1937. It now sells six million boxes a week. (That’s just Kraft; that’s not counting the ubiquitous Annie’s boxes.) Do you know how much macaroni that is? It’s enough that if you stacked the boxes end on end on end, you wouldn’t be anywhere close to the moon. But you wouldn’t want to fall from there, either.
All of which is a way of saying: If there’s a single thing you do not need from your kids-eat-food column, it is macaroni and cheese.
On the other hand, even macaroni and cheese deserves its dignity.
It once had it. The first packages of “Kraft Dinner” came with multi-step instructions: You still were supposed to boil the macaroni and then bake it, topped with breadcrumbs. Today these instructions feel charmingly naïve. Kraft still felt wedded to the original conception of the dish; it apparently never occurred to them that they could discard the baking step.
It soon did. And the brilliant part was not just that they discarded the baking step. It was that they discarded the baking step and still called it macaroni and cheese.
More: Make your own breadcrumbs.
Today, the one-step macaroni and cheese is the default version. Baked macaroni and cheese is the special kind, the sort you get nostalgic about. And as much as this column has tried to avoid anything that might appear on the kids' menu, that’s a good argument for making proper macaroni and cheese: You should make it now so you can feel nostalgic about it later.
This lovely version comes from Jonathon Sawyer’s Noodle Kids, the rare cookbook for families that’s both practical and ambitious. It’s the sort of family cookbook with recipes for ramen and fideo and mac and cheese. Mixed with broccoli, casserole-style, Sawyer’s macaroni and cheese is a complete meal, and with stock instead of cream, it is even slightly lighter than the traditional version -- but not so light that the entire family won’t fall asleep on the couch afterwards.
So do that. And this column will be back next time with more of the delicious innard recipes that your children know and wish you wouldn’t make.
Macaroni-and-Cheese (and Broccoli) Casserole
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock or water)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salted butter
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 generous head of broccoli, cut into florets and stems peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons toasted bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.
Photos by Bobbi Lin