I don’t know about you, but this week has been a whole bunch of “Fuck it.” This means I’ve been using the deep-fryer. Like a lot. While Alex may be making their own ricotta and doing wholesome things with vegetable dips, I’m here making garbage plates, fried tacos, and a heaping plate of homemade nachos, because it’s a pandemic and food can be a comfort. (Hey! That’s our tagline!)
Today I’m here to tell you how to make two dishes that are both delicious and in no way healthy.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something magical about a jar or can of cheese. That gelatinous, slightly spicy cheese product that is somehow shelf-stable for years due to the wonders of modern chemistry. Or a box of mac and cheese with the cheese packet of gooey, weirdly orange sauce. Both are go-to depression foods for me, but in these times, going to the grocery store is difficult, and let’s be honest, you ate all your garbage food last week.
So let’s talk about making your own cheese sauce and then drowning your sorrows in it.
To make a cheese sauce, the first thing you have to do is make a bechemel. This is one of the five French mother sauces and the base for a lot of cream sauces as well. For this you will need butter, flour, milk, and cheese(s).
First you add one part butter to one part flour. (This means if you add one tablespoon of butter, you also add one tablespoon of flour.) The amount that you use will determine the amount of sauce you need. For four servings, I would use 1/2 cup butter (or one stick) and 1/2 cup flour.
Melt your butter on medium heat. Once melted (but not browned), whisk in your flour a little at a time until fully incorporated. Then slowly add your milk 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to whisk and bring the mixture to a low boil. Keep adding milk until you have a consistency a little wetter than you would normally want for a cream sauce. (Remember, there’s cheese to be added!)
At this point you’ll want to also salt to taste. Milk in particular really needs salt to bring out any subtly of flavor. (I went ahead and add some hot pepper flakes to mine as well!)
Now that your bechemel is complete, you can go on a long road of choose-your-own adventures with your sauce.
Mac and Cheese
Once you’re happy with your bechemel, it’s time to add the cheese! Honestly, at this point, go wild! The classic would be a sharp cheddar, but you could just as easily go with a smoked gouda or a funky blue. Add in some cream cheese if you need to stretch another cheese a bit or want added creaminess. Finish with grated Parmesan for more umami. (Or just add MSG like I do.)
You’ll also want to spice it to your liking. My award-winning combo includes dried mustard, smoked paprika, cayenne, hot sauce, garlic powder and chopped green onions. (You can also add fresh vegetables, though I recommend sauteeing them in the butter when making the bechemel.)
Keep tasting your sauce as you’re cooking. If it tastes flat, add a bit of acid to help cut through the cream. Hot sauce will do this, but so will a splash of apple cider vinegar or a little bit of lemon juice. Not too much. Just enough to help balance it.
When it’s to your liking, add to cooked pasta of your choosing. Play around with your pastas. You may find you like some more than you originally thought. (My mother used to make mac and cheese with spaghetti noodles!)
Some people bake their mac and cheese at this point, but unless it’s overly runny, I usually just pop it on a plate and call it a day.
If you’re looking for a little more crunch and spice with your cheese, we also have you covered. Once your bechemel is done, you’ll want to consider which cheese route you want to go. I usually go for a Pepper Jack, but a sharp cheddar would work just as well. Whatever is around that fits the profile.
If the cheese itself isn’t spicy, add a little crushed red pepper, cayenne, or hot sauce. (Or a lot of all three if you’re me.) Cumin would also be an excellent addition here. Again, tasted until you’re happy with the final product.
Then drizzle your cheese over some (ideally homemade) tortilla chips and top with any or all of the following:
- Beans (refried or otherwise)
- Sliced black olives
- More hot sauce
- Sour cream
- Diced tomatoes
- Pickled jalapeños
The list goes on and on. You can also just eat it directly out of the pan like my friends and I did when I would drunkenly make this for everyone at the end of the night in grad school.
Now go forth and eat your feelings!