Island food culture is a wonderful riot, to be savoured and enjoyed. When we first came on island I was surprised by the food fusion between American, British and Caribbean fare. You would easily find an overblown pot of peanut butter alongside a similar-sized jar of Marmite in your local diner here. Now, the British side was familiar to me, but the Caribbean and American, not so much.
Hoorah for Corn Bread (how did I not know before?)! I mean: sticky ribs (uhhhhh…) and pulled pork sandwiches (with hot sawse, gurl) are just the most obvious and glorious offerings. Then there’s jerk chicken; fish cakes on hot cross buns for Easter; avocados for breakfast (as the Good Lord decreed); home-grown bananas; papayas and watermelon: these things are a blessing to the foodie in me.
But what is this weird thing called Velveeta? What is it? Why on earth would you eat it? Why, for the love of all that is holy, would you substitute this elastic, suspicious thing, which has been laced with MSG and cancer-forming chemicals, and deny yourself the full flavour and joy that is a proper Mac’n Cheese, made “la traditionelle”? I bristle with revolution.
This whole packet-thing makes me angry. It has invaded our lives under the guise of convenience, and we are all now suffering for it. Let me tell you something: unless you are an arctic explorer or you’re competing in the Tour de France, you do not deserve to have Mac’n Cheese every day. That thing is laden with fat, extra calories and a mountain of carbohydrates. Stop that immediately. This is exactly how we as a human race got into this diabetes and heart disease mess that we are in. Make the thing proper, and make it for a special occasion. Lace it with good quality, aged cheddar, throw in some bacon (because bacon is life) and press in the flavour with a dash of mustard. Stuff yourself until you are shiny around the mouth. It’s fine. But not every day. Sweat for it, make it worth it.
Is there anything finer than picking the crusty cheesy bits off the side of the dish at the end of the evening? When you savour the crunch and the salt of it, full hot after a day of floating in the blue, with a cool glass of white wine? Dear God, take me now.
The only thing that should be convenient in your food life is ice cream. Go get that as a take-out.
Now I freely admit that I am a food snob. I buy aged cheddar and organic maple syrup, and it costs me an absolute fortune. I’m fine with it, because I view it as an investment into my wellbeing. The total abandonment in the enjoyment of food is one of the very few glorious things we humans can do that remains legal. Why on earth would you cut corners on that? Rather eat less of the real thing than eat more of that sad, nasty thing.
Now let’s be honest: the struggle is real. Trying to stay in shape is not easy at all. But surely quality vs quantity wins some of that war. I’m eating a lot of fresh watermelon at the moment trying keep the weight off (she giggles immodestly – what a cheat).
So. Here, for posterity, and as a gift to the world is my recipe for Mac’n Cheese. Enjoy y’all.
Wendy’s awesome special occasion Mac’nCheese (serves at least 8 food warriors as a side dish)
Ingredients: for the béchamel sauce
30 g of plain flour
30g of salted butter
1 tablespoon of mustard
500ml of whole milk
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pack of best quality English bacon, smoked, about 500 g.
1 large pack of macaroni, 900 g, cooked in salted water al dente to manufacturers instructions, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook. It should remain a little bit hard.
500g of good quality aged cheddar cheese, grated, plus whatever leftover bits of old cheese you have left in the fridge. It really doesn’t matter what kind of cheese, as long as it is strong in flavour.
A coupe of table spoons of breadcrumbs for the top.
First make the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan, over a medium heath, and add the flour. Use a whisk to mix the flour, making a dough. As soon as the dough is formed, add a splash of milk, and keep using the whisk, mixing the ingredients together. Keep adding splashes of milk and whisking, until the mixture has taken on the consistency of a thick custard, and no lumps remain. You can now add the rest of the milk, mix and turn the heat down to low. The mixture will now settle and thicken. Add the salt and the mustard, and mix in. Once the heat has risen and small bubbles form at the top of the milk, you can turn the heat off. It should have the consistency of cream. Add about half of the grated cheese and other bits, and using the whisk, mix together. Taste. If it needs more cheese or salt or mustard, add it in. Also a good turn of pepper.
Cut the bacon into small pieces, and fry in a pan with a little splash of olive oil. You want to turn it brown and crispy. Set aside.
Add the sauce to the cooked macaroni, enough to make it cling to all the pasta, but not drown it. Add the bacon from the pan, and mix all though.
Use a large pyrex dish, that has been buttered, and decant the mixture into it. Cover the top with a good layer of grated cheese, and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over as well. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or 180 Celsius, for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden. Enjoy.