Shavuot Mac and Cheese from Scratch
By Ruth Abrams
Jews traditionally eat dairy products, like blintzes, on Shavuot. According to Jewish folklore, this was because when God gave us the Torah, we realized that all of our meat dishes weren't kosher, and we had to scramble around trying to fix things, so we ate vegetarian. Since that's one of the reasons my family likes vegetarianism, I can relate.
Here's a dish that my picky child enjoys more than blintzes--macaroni and cheese, from scratch. If you've only made the kind that comes in a box, you're going to be surprised at how easy this is. I usually let my son help too. It might seem like more cooking than you usually do because you have to use a wire whisk and thicken a sauce, so wear an apron and flex your biceps, but don't be intimidated!
We usually use soy milk for the sauce, so I know that substitution works. If you're hardcore about whole grains, you can use whole-grain macaroni and whole-wheat flour in the sauce too--it will look a little grainy, but it will thicken. You can also add vegetables to this by putting a half cup of frozen spinach or frozen peas into the water with the pasta right as you finish cooking it, but if your child is picky, it's probably better to put veggies on the side.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
4 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk (approximately)
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated or chopped (about half an 8-ounce brick of Cabot cheese, or to taste)
1 pound macaroni
Squirt of prepared mustard, optional
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach or frozen peas, optional
You'll need three pots, three stove burners and a wire whisk. Boil some salted water for the macaroni in a big pot on the back burner, and heat the milk on a low flame. Melt the butter or margarine in a saucepan on the front burner on a medium-low flame and sprinkle in the flour. Whisk this mixture so that it's smooth, then cook for two to five minutes--don't brown it, just make sure there's no raw flour taste. Gradually add the warmed milk a little at a time, whisking to make sure everything incorporates with no lumps. Since you warmed the milk, this should go pretty smoothly. Once you have a sauce of the thickness you like, stop adding milk.
Boil the macaroni according to package directions. During the five or six minutes the macaroni takes to cook, add the cheese to the sauce and turn the heat all the way down, because you aren't cooking the cheese, just melting it. Stir the sauce so the cheese melts into it. It should look smooth and taste cheesy. (You can always add more cheese!) If you're adding vegetables to the dish, throw them into the boiling water with the pasta right before you drain the pasta in a colander. Mix the cheese sauce into the pasta, and it's ready to enjoy.
Ruth Abrams is a Jewish writer, mother and freelance editor with a largely decorative Ph.D. who knows a lot of recipes. She blogs at theversatilewriter.org.