Canadian Cheddar Macaroni Casserole

Mac and Cheese

A couple of years ago I shared the short story “Macaroni and Please Help Me!” on this blog. This is how I really wanted this dish to turn out. This is the third year in a row that I will be making this again – I’m attempting to keep a new tradition going.

I’ve tweaked a family favourite recipe to create this festive meal. *What I love about the original recipe is the addition of sour cream. I find that the sour cream is great for brightening up the cheesy flavours with an extra kick of sharpness, so I would never make a macaroni and cheese casserole without it.

# If bell peppers are too pricy (as they often seem to be), you can probably use tomatoes as a substitute. Just make sure that the tomatoes you buy are red enough to show up well against the baked macaroni, and that the seeds and excess juice is drained off well.

Serve this savoury masterpiece to your guests, and they will remember it – hopefully they will remember it for good reasons. I’m sure they will enjoy it, because you are not going to mix up one ingredient for something else like I did.

Ingredients:

  • 1 printed maple leaf picture, image cut out (the border will be your stencil)
  • 3 cups macaroni of your choice, uncooked (elbow, shells, bowtie, fun patriotic shapes, you name it)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 or 2 tsp real maple syrup
  • 4 cups extra sharp white cheddar cheese (the more Canadian the better)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream *
  • 2 or 3 red bell peppers, chopped extra fine #
  • Chopped fresh herbs (Optional)

Instructions:

Grease a Glass 9×13” casserole dish and set aside.

Prepare macaroni according to package directions, then set aside.

Melt the butter on the stove. Add the flour. Mix the butter and flour together and cook it until it becomes a golden paste.

Add the milk, salt, and maple syrup. Continuously stir and simmer until it becomes a thick white sauce.

Turn off the heat. As soon at the sauce stops simmering, mix in the cheese until the mixture becomes all melty, gooey, and looks delicious. Stir in the sour cream right after that.

Mix all that goodness up with the macaroni, then scrape it into the casserole dish. At this point you may cover it and save it in the fridge for the next day if you’d like, or you can bake it right away.

Set the oven for 350 degrees F and bake it for 45-50 minutes.

Once it’s out of the oven, gently place your maple leaf stencil on top of the casserole and sprinkle the chopped peppers into the space. Try to fill in as many crevices as possible so that you don’t miss the points on the maple leaf.

Sprinkle the rest of your bell peppers across the side edges of the casserole to make it look like the Canadian flag.

Fresh herbs are often in full bloom on Canada day. If you have some herb plants that you would like to enjoy as much as possible, serve this beauty with a dish of chopped herbs from your plants. Your guests may like to sprinkle some onto their servings to add an extra layer of flavour.

Serve this to your friends and family, and have a happy Canada day!

Macaroni and Please Help Me! (Part 3)

Natasha scooped the pearly white sauce with a spoon, and tasted it. Her eyes narrowed. “It’s like…” she said, “it’s like… crème de la crème.”

That sounds nice, I thought. That did sound nice, but I never heard of a cheese sauce being described in that way.

Beth gave it a taste. “Wow! This is decadent,” she said.

“Not only that, but it’s sweet. That’s probably because of all the butter and cheese we added,” Said Natasha.

Beth nodded.

As for me, I never thought of butter and cheese as ever being sweet. Maybe Natasha wasn’t saying that the sauce was literally sweet. Maybe ‘sweet’ was just another way of describing food as ‘rich’.

food pot kitchen cookingI spooned some of the nearly translucent, shiny sauce, and licked it from the spoon. It tingled my taste buds with an unexpected flavour of cheesecake, only sweeter. They were not kidding. I wrinkled my nose. Something wasn’t right.

“It tastes like a dessert,” I said.

cake dessert berries icing sugar

Natasha tried to convince me that cheese and butter can make food taste sweet, but I didn’t buy that.

“Maybe we made sugar,” I said.

I wondered if the flour in the sauce broke down into sugar, but Natasha reminded me that the flour wasn’t cooked enough to do that.

yellow pastry on white powder on brown wooden table

Beth went to the pantry as she carried the flour, and opened it. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we used icing sugar instead of flour?” she said.

We all chuckled at the thought. It would have been funny.

Right after my sister put the container into the pantry and closed the door, she opened it again, and took a good look inside. The sugar was sitting to the right of the container we used, and sitting to container’s left was none other then a fat paper bag of flour.

“You know what?” she said, “I think we really did use icing sugar!”

There was a moment of silence – a moment that neared a sense of disbelief before we burst into laughter!

I was going to throw it out, but Beth told me not to. We went though with the project, and added the sauce to the Macaroni, diced up the bell peppers, and decorated it before we popped it into the oven.  For Canada’s 150th birthday, we had a casserole that looked like a Canadian flag and was made with sugar-glazed macaroni at our mom and dad’s house. It was a good thing that my mom prepared real food. We all enjoyed eating that bizarre casserole – not because it tasted really good, but because it tasted like something to remember.

Picture1

 

Macaroni and Please Help Me! (Part 2)

This was how I described the mixture as I was texting my mom: “It looks like curdled milk in butter.”

My mom replied, “Perhaps it just needs a little processed cheese? :)”

She was kidding. She knew how I felt about that stuff. I always thought of these kinds of cheeses as fillers in food. To me, processed cheese tastes more like salty cream than cheese. It also has the potential of giving food a pasty texture.

“Hahaha, no.” I texted.

Grilled Cheese
This sandwich has the potential of being good, but sadly it’s made with cheese that had it’s cheesiness taken away. If you strip away it’s cheesiness, you strip away it’s dignity. 😥

Beth came into the house right after she finished mowing the lawn. I lifted the lid from the pot, and I gently tipped it to show her it’s soupy, residuey content. She agreed — something was funny about that sauce.

A few minutes later, our third house mate marched back into the house from work. Natasha is a girl who grew up in town, and it shows. She is confident in her surroundings, and navigates them quickly and efficiently.

When she reached the kitchen, she lifted her nose, and smelled the air. “Hm,” she said, “It smells like popcorn here. What are you guys making?”

“It’s supposed to be macaroni and cheese,” I said, “But I think that I ruined it.”

I’ve discovered from the time that Natasha lived with us that she is quick to act in any given situation. If she sees a job that needs to be done, or a problem that needs to be solved, then she’d step right into action. To her, there is no process — there is only the end product.

So being the girl to get things done, Natasha swooped in to the rescue, and called her mom who knew a recipe for cheese sauce by heart.

antique black call classic

“Give me the flour,” Natasha said. “We’re going to fix that sauce.”

I opened the pantry, and took out the container that sat next to the sugar.

Natasha put Beth in charge of the flour and cream as she was stirring the pot. She put me in charge of grating some more cheese. The cheese wasn’t the same as the stuff I had ruined, but at least it was still a nice white cheddar.

flour in a jarAs I grated, I thought about how ‘grate’ it was that the other two girls were so willing to help. I chuckled inside a little at my own pun.

“We need a little more flour,” said Natasha.

Beth had already added half a cup of flour to the mixture just like Natasha’s mom said to do, plus a whole lot more. None of us questioned why it was taking so much flour to thicken the sauce. Instead of questioning it, I made sure to grate a lot of that cheesy goodness that would cut through the floury taste.

grating-cheese-4271670We stirred in the cheese, and then we were done–we were finally done! It wasn’t the texture I was originally looking for, but that was okay considering that we were trying to fix the sauce that was already ruined. It was thick and white – good enough for me. What mattered now was the taste.

Macaroni and Please Help Me! (Part 1)

I originally wrote this story for a short story competition, but the deadline to send in my manuscript ended before I was finished.  But that’s okay, because I can post it here for Canada Day!  This is a true story, but the character’s names are different, including my own.

What marks a special date, whether that be a holiday, or big transition in life better than a work of art?  Art can be written, painted, or in this case cooked, and baked in a casserole.  Do the great memories of these special days stick with us for the perfection of the art that was made to celebrate that day, or the mistakes that made them so far from perfect that we can’t even contain our memory of the beautiful tragedy?

I have divided this story into three parts, and each part will be published within the course of three days leading up to the 1st of July, 2018.  Unlike my previous posts this should be easy on the brain (at least, I hope it will be).  So sit back, get yourself a glass of virgin moose milk that’s either perfect, or curdled because of some freaky fluke, and enjoy my own failure!  🙂

You can’t tell from this picture that I cropped to conceal my identity, but I was making a sad face. 😦

“B-but Beth” I said, “you didn’t even look at it yet.”

My sister calmly turned the lawn mower off. She swiped away from her glasses the loose hairs that had blown out of her braids and smiled. “I’m sure it’s fine” she said – again – as her eyes that always seemed to be smiling sparkled with optimism.

The phrase ‘I’m sure it’s fine’ was driving me crazy every time that she said it! There were many times when I appreciated her gift of optimism, but not at that moment. It was like she was denying the pain of my own failure by blindly believing that the project I was working on inside the house was totally ‘fine’.

“It will be fine!” she said, “Maybe it just needs a little more time on the stove to thicken up a bit.”

Nope, it was too late. I had already added the cheese to the so-called ‘béchamel’ sauce. It was expensive cheese too. It was a beautiful block of extra sharp Canadian white cheddar that Mom was kind enough to pay for at the grocery store.

sliced yellow cheese

It was a special year as well, so I was determined to make it right. Not only was it Canada’s 150th anniversary, but it was the year of my Dad’s retirement from the Air Force. It was the year that our family finally settled in a place that we will call ‘home’. After years of experiencing different homes and new adventures, we settled on Prince Edward Island, so we were now transitioning into new kinds of adventures. Beth and myself, Kailee, were beginning to live as housemates, learning how to navigate the waters of adulthood in Charlottetown. The only family member who wasn’t on the Island yet was our brother who was finishing university in Ontario.

So now you might understand why in my heart I believed it was going to be something good, and hopefully something to remember. It was going to be a creamy white cheddar macaroni and cheese casserole with diced red bell peppers sprinkled over a maple leaf stencil on top of it to look like a Canadian Flag.

canada flag with mountain range viewThe lawn mower began to roar again after Beth told me to just keep trying. The lawn mower cut me off from complaining. That hurt.

I ran into the house, threw on the one-of-a-kind apron that I had made for myself, and adjusted the cape of it’s nautical collar before I tied the back. Every project I took on for myself was like a mad science experiment. There were times when I was successful with a project, like when I made the apron I was currently wearing that made me look like a ragdoll at sea.  This is my favourite apron. There were also times when I feared my own creativity after ruining a project, like the one I was currently working on.

This was the first time I had tried making a cheese sauce with high-quality cheese. I was afraid that this was my mistake as I turned the heat on again, and stirred the monstrosity in front of me.

In my heart of hearts, the sauce was going to be smooth and creamy with a tangy flavour, and gooey enough so that when I lifted the spoon it was going to ooze down from it like a cheese fondue.

Cheese FondueBut as you know, my eyes saw what my heart didn’t want to see. I wanted to cry as I stirred the mixture that looked like curdled milk in butter.

brown highland cattle on field of grass
It was a ‘dairy-saster’