Participatory Eating

This evening we had our Sunday dinner family friends over to enjoy baked macaroni and cheese (I included my recipe below). I had made a double batch of cheesy buttery goodness – one to serve and one to drop with new friends we had met through a craigslist purchase who are also expecting twins. Aside: if you know someone expecting multiples, and want to help – please make them a dinner before the babies come. Being pregnant with more than one baby at a time is extraordinarily difficult. And you get peckish. And you can’t stand upright long enough to make something like baked macaroni and cheese.

Anyway … To balance out this heavy dish I wanted to add something bright. I found just the thing as I was lusting my way through the green grocer section: two-for-one artichokes. After tossing the best looking ones into my cart, I snagged a lemon to make a simple citrus butter. And then of course ended up in a checkout line conversation with another customer about this beautiful vegetable about how much fun it is to eat.

And it was so much fun to eat. We crowded around the steaming olive-toned globes plucking leaves, assiduously inspecting each one for artichoke meat, working our way to the over sized hearts (these were definitely not organic veggies), carefully removing the hairy choke on each one and divvying up the prizes. It was a delightful and delicious experience.

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What is it about food that requires some level of participation? Why is it so much more satisfying to be involved with what we eat?

Like navigating through a good drumstick, thigh, or wing.

Or preparing a grapefruit half using those clever albeit threateningly-designed knives.

Or salting a bowlful of edemame ahead of the splitting and popping into your mouth that our family loves to do.

Or I guess at it’s core why it’s more fun eating tapas style, or out of a bento box?

What foods do you like to play with?


 Storm Family Favorite: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • 6 tablespoons butter – use all the butter, it’s worth it
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped  – this is essential to get the right flavor (if I’m making for another family I chop in large pieces to be removed easily)
  • 3 cups milk – we use whole milk, it’s also worth it
  • 5 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack – about half a block 
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar – about 2 blocks
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar – this is for the top, keep aside, about 1 block
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese – we use the real stuff, it’s worth it

Cook pasta according to directions on packet. Shock with cold water until completely cold. Drain, set aside. Pour your 3 cups of milk and set aside (this allows it to lose a little of its refrigerator chill to avoid hampering the melting process later on).

In a large saucepan melt the butter on medium heat. While it melts, chop your onion and set aside. Add flour to melted butter, whisking often, cooking until roux turns light yellow. Add onion and continue to whisk. At this point, while the onions are doing their thing (a.k.a. sauteing in the roux) I just chop the cheese. I don’t bother with shredding anymore, after all who ever complained about getting a wodge of melty cheese on your fork? Keep a cautious eye out for a burning pan, you might need to reduce your heat.

When the cheese is piled up on a separate dish, the onions and roux should be ready. Now is a good time to turn the oven to 375 and pull out your glass 9×13 pan.

Slowly pour the milk into the roux/onion mix in your pan. Whisk constantly and carefully. You’ll see the gluten bind up and thicken the milk. Turn your heat to low and stir occasionally. Slide your pile of cheese in and let it sit and warm and melt. I found that too much stirring can separate the cheese ending with a soupy disaster.

Pour in your cooked elbows, stir, then pour into your pan (really no point in greasing ahead of time – melted cheese will stick regardless). Cover with your remaining cheese (I do shred this last bit) and pop into the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, then crank up the broiler and watch to get the right amount of brown that your family likes.

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