Mac & Cheese

Quarantine requires comfort food, right? And plus also pasta is currently Belle’s “favorite treat” (she says, as she demands it daily) and I’m determined to trick her into eating something on it. First, mac & cheese, next, sneak some spinach in there, or make chili mac. Whatever it is, I want to eat it too.

Belle has also been watching a lot of UmiZoomi, and there’s a character on the show named Millie, who has a pattern dress. This recipe targets patterns. Pattern power!

Pouring pasta
In case you were wondering, this technique ensures dry pasta on the floor.

But first, a word on making the pasta. The steps according to Belle are: water in the pot, add a little bit of magic (heat), not green magic (range hood fan and its green operating light), add pasta, don’t burn yourself mama, stir, taste, drain. The green magic has to turn on when Belle pours the pasta in and some falls under the electric burner (yikes! Let’s not char dried pasta), which means in order to follow her directions, I have to move the pot between her and the burner before she adds the pasta. Likewise, we add a little bit of magic but not high heat because we don’t want things to boil over.

Magic is a kind of silly word to use for heat, but by using it, we’re connecting to a particular set of ideas in Belle’s mind, much like using a keyword from a nursery rhyme will get her to recite the entire thing. This magic is a little bit good – it can cook the pasta – and a little bit bad – it can hurt me if I touch it. I have to be careful not to bump the pot, or touch the burner, or I could burn myself. I need to hold the pot handle with my helping hand, and stir the pot with my spoon hand, so it doesn’t tip over and hurt me. Buddy doesn’t understand, so if he tries to climb the tower, I need to get help so he doesn’t touch the magic burner.

Hey, if we have to make pasta daily, we might as well work on nailing down burner safety through repetition.

Knife skills
Belle, where do we hold the knife?

We use a similar story for the knife: I hold the black handle, with the point out and the sharp side down. I use my helping hand to hold the cheese, with my fingers far away. I ask for help if it’s too hard to cut, or if it’s too small.

Cheddar cheese is too hard to cut alone, so mama and Belle cut together.

Mac and cheese layering
I tried to challenge Belle to fit more pieces in, but she ate the cheese instead. Then gave some to Buddy. We recommend extra for snacking.

Now, back to patterns. This day, we’d spent Buddy’s naptime stringing beads onto pipecleaners to get Belle’s head in the pattern game. Layering the 4 ingredients makes an ABCDABCD pattern, or an ABCABC pattern if you pretend the bread crumbs and pepper are one ingredient. She got it on the third set and wanted to keep going, which means doubling the recipe or using a smaller casserole dish probably would have helped us practice. Or just make it again, because in quarantine, we need comfort food!

Skills worked on:

  • Early math: patterns (ABCABC)
  • Kitchen safety: burners
  • Knife skills
  • Recall: social stories

Equipment:

  • Pot
  • Strainer
  • Casserole dish
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Slotted spoon

Mac and cheese, almost ready for the oven

Recipe (35 min prep, 45 min bake, yield: 4 entree servings or 8 side servings)

This is a childhood recipe from my mom, and very flexible to what you have in the pantry. If you don’t have enough milk, cream or reserved pasta water will work, but you need the liquid to keep the pasta from drying out or burning, and it creates a gooey sauce. If I were to add meat or veg in, it would be the bottom layer.

  • 1 box of pasta (elbow, shells, or whatever you have that’s not noodle-y)
  • 8-12 oz cheese (sharp cheddar, or whatever sounds good)
  • 1/2-3/4 c bread crumbs (Italian, or panko, or crushed croutons, or whatever stale and seasoned bread you can find and crush finely)
  • Salt and pepper (optional)
  • 1/2-3/4 c milk
  1. Prepare box of pasta in salted water; drain.
  2. Cut 8-12 oz cheese into slices about 1/8″ thick (or shred).
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  4. Layer in the casserole dish: pasta to cover the bottom of the dish (1/4 to 1/3 of the pasta). Arrange cheese to cover the pasta – some gaps are okay. Shake about 1/4 of the bread crumbs (2-3 tbsp) over the cheese, then grind some pepper (optional) over that. Continue to layer pasta, cheese, and bread crumbs/pepper until you run out or reach the top of the dish (3-4 layers).
  5. Add enough milk to go 1/2-2/3 of the way up the side of the dish.
  6. Bake 45 min in 350° oven, or until cheese looks melted and slightly bubbly, and no liquid remains. Serve immediately.

This recipe is part of our coronavirus/Covid-19 quarantine bake-along. See the previous recipe here: Shortbread. See the next recipe here: Pumpkin Bread.

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Mac and cheese pin

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