Cooking For Others: Annie’s All Grown Up
EVENT: Old Friend, Old Flavors
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
PARTY SIZE: 2
TYPE: Casual Weeknight Dinner
MENU: All Grown-up White Cheddar Broccoli Mac n’ Cheese; Mixed Greens with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette
My friend Anna was like my sister growing up. Our families spent all their time together, her friends were my friends, and though our eating habits could not have been more different in our respective homes, we shared a lot of meals. I had always thought of my house as the black hole for childhood snacks: the only fruit roll-ups we had were from the health food store and tasted like fruit which, in those days, was a far cry from the waxy mystery colors of the individually packaged Shark snackpacks. The only cereal our cabinets contained was Cream of Wheat, and our granola bars were not Chewy (literally)—and were speckled with strange seeds and carob chips. Since my mother forbid any food that contained cottonseed oil on the premises, I would usually choose to go over to Anna’s, and when I did, I went crazy.
We’d fill giant trays with cookie dough and chips and Oreos and milk and Gushers, and play Mario party (yeah, she also had Nintendo) for hours. We’d take breaks from our grueling ritual only to allow time for the proper consumption of a Fruit by the Foot—best if wrapped around your thumb and sucked—and to practice for the fashion show we were putting on later that night, an event that basically consisted of us prancing around to Ace of Base in outfits that our parents helped us purchase at the mall, and forcing them to watch. For hours.
The one thing that my house had going for it was the mac and cheese. Before Whole Foods was a chain, and Annie’s was a specialty brand only to be found on strange ‘healthy’ household shelves like my own, my mother—like Cara’s—would serve white shells with cheese heated slowly in a pot and made creamy with the addition of some whole milk and patient stirring. Though of course I craved the Kraft mystery yellow variety, the few times Anna would come over to my house, my mom would have a pot waiting for her, back by popular demand.
Now, officially in quarter-life (and eating more healthfully: even Anna now loves salad), we psuedo-sisters are living on the same coast for the first time in 5 years with but a bridge dividing us, and yet we can rarely seem to find the time to hang out. Anna’s career is heating up, and though our old dreams of fashion shows and clothing lines together have been retired along with the Nintendo controllers, it gives me an indescribable thrill to see her on the verge of finally achieving the one she’s always put first: music.
The night after her show at the Living Room, I finally lured Anna to Flatiron to celebrate, and knew the perfect thing to have waiting for her. With a little more milk (and butter), real cheese instead of powdered, and the addition of some green to an old white favorite, my pot of mac had all the comfort of our childhood, just a bit grown up.
From my kitchen, where a little milk, some extra stirring, and old friends are back by popular demand, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
White Cheddar-Broccoli Mac and Cheese
Makes 4-5 servings
For me, always a lover of green, my ideal comfort dish would be a fusion of creamy broccoli cheddar soup (in a bread bowl), and a rich baked macaroni and cheese. I’m sure some Midwestern mother took this combination literally back in the 70’s, and answered my dreams with a heavenly cream of broccoli casserole. But since Anna was once put off by dishes that contained green, I wasn’t going to push the envelope by serving her a plate of pasta that actually was green. Restraint paid off, and the classic white cheddar sauce was as enhanced by the addition of crunchy broccoli as the pasta shells were by a healthy trip to the broiler.
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar (10oz)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups finely cut broccoli florets (about 1lb with stems)
1 lb conchiglie (medium shells)
Preheat the oven to broil.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat.
In a large oven-proof skillet or casserole dish, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until fully incorporated, about two minutes. Add the milk and whisk over a high flame until the mixture has bubbled and thickened, about 5-7 minutes.
Once the water has boiled, blanche the broccoli until just barely tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Bring the water back up to a boil and add the pasta. Cook pasta according to the package instructions until two minutes shy of al dente. The pasta should still have a bite to it.
Add the all the cheese except for a small hand-full to the milk mixture and whisk until fully combined. Taste cheese sauce for seasoning. Stir in the broccoli florets and the pasta. Distribute evenly throughout the skillet or dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
Serve immediately with a side salad.
I’ve been told that the true sign of maturity is being able to care for another living thing. Since I’m currently single, and not looking for any pets or babies to fill that void in the near future, I decided to test out my grown-up conscientiousness by buying (and potting, mind you) a basil plant. It’s been a few weeks now, and after giving the majority of its leaves to this dressing, my baby is back in action, and my how he’s grown.
5oz mixed greens
¼ cup basil leaves
½ lemon, juiced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp honey
1 tsp white vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until herbs are completely incorporated and the dressing is light and frothy. Taste for seasoning and add any additional olive oil as necessary for desired flavor.
Toss the greens with the dressing and serve.