I’m not going to come right out and divulge my age, of course, but let’s just say that I’m not necessarily a spring chicken anymore. Age is only a number anyway, right? It’s how one feels on the inside that’s important; at least, that’s what they say, whoever “they” may be. And I couldn’t agree with “them” more. But still, according to the combination of numbers that make up my age, numbers that fall somewhere between twenty and forty, I can’t escape the fact that I’m officially an adult now, a “grown-up”, and have been for quite some time. But what is being a “grown-up” supposed to feel like, anyway? Is it only the addition of responsibilities and check-lists? Is it merely a lot more work and a lot less play? Does it mean that because maturity and wisdom become expected, that joy, curiosity and a whimsical spirit now must be neatly folded up and tucked away for the rest of our allotted time? Certainly, it can’t; and I don’t believe it’s meant to be. Because to me, “growing up” just simply seems to imply an addition of something and not a taking away. I like to think of the process of becoming an adult, a grown-up, as just building upon those precious, innocent, loving and naturally inquisitive qualities innate in childhood, and guarding them closely, so that they may always inform all of the experiences that the years of life end up bringing. Those qualities were never meant to be discounted or abandoned; rather, cherished and held dear.
When I was a kid, I remember my friends telling me that I seemed like an “old soul”. What’s ironic to me now is that the older I get, the younger at heart I seem to feel, and the more prone to silliness, zaniness and curiosity I seem to be. Go figure. Perhaps it’s the “Benjamin Button” effect, only I don’t necessarily begin to look and feel younger physically (I wish), I just feel younger in spirit, somehow. And truth be told, I wouldn’t mind being a bit more “child-like”—more loving, more innocent in my way of thinking, more eager to just “let go”—and a bit less jagged around the edges. But I’m working on it. I want to get back to playing with my food, to laughing freely at things that are silly and amusing, to exploring and to being surprised by life. I want to enjoy a huge bowl of mac n’ cheese with abandon like I did when I was a kid; only now, add the extra goodies into it that life has introduced to me, and that I’ve learned that I really like the taste of, to make that mac n’ cheese that much more interesting and dynamic than it was before. What a way life has of building upon itself, layer upon layer, and coming full circle.
I really think there’s a child that resides in all of us, just wanting to be acknowledged for still existing. Perhaps it makes itself known every now and then when the guard gets let down, or when there is a moment of stillness, of quiet, and its faint giggles cannot be suppressed. The wonder, love and innocence that was placed in each of us at the point of our beginning can never be fully extinguished; it gently and softly taps at the heart so that it may be remembered and included in who we are today. To feed that child, to nurture it, can only help those of us “grown-ups” to become more complete and more whole; but it starts with remembering, doesn’t it? If chicken soup is for the soul, then mac n’ cheese is for the child within each one of us.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
“Grown-Up’s” Mac n’ Cheese with Three Cheeses, Crispy Prosciutto, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Multigrain Pasta, with Panko-Herb Crust
Print this recipe
(Serves about 8)
• Creamy, Three-Cheese Sauce (recipe below)
• Multigrain (or wholegrain) elbow macaroni pasta (14.5 ounces), uncooked
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), julienned
8 ounces sliced Prosciutto, crisped and chopped, divided use (*see note)
¼ cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated jalapeno jack cheese
¼ cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon chives, chopped, for garnish
(*Crisp the Prosciutto slices, in batches, in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until golden-brown and crispy, similar to bacon; chop finely once cool enough to handle.)
-Preheat the oven to 350; lightly butter a large casserole/baking dish.
-Prepare the Creamy, 3-Cheese Sauce; set aside and keep warm.
-Cook the elbow macaroni according to package instructions, and drain well.
-Next, add the cooked elbow macaroni directly into the Creamy, 3-Cheese Sauce, along with the sun-dried tomatoes, and gently stir to combine well; pour about half of the elbow macaroni/cheese sauce/sun-dried tomato mixture into the buttered casserole/baking dish, and then sprinkle over about half of the chopped, crispy prosciutto; next, pour the remainder of the elbow macaroni/cheese sauce/sun-dried tomato mixture into the casserole dish, and sprinkle over the top the ¼ cups of white cheddar, jalapeno jack and Gruyere cheeses, mixing them a bit; next, combine the panko bread crumbs with the olive oil, Italian seasoning, black pepper and salt using your fingers, and sprinkle that mixture evenly over top of the cheeses to form a crust.
-Place the uncovered casserole/baking dish into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and gooey, and the breadcrumb topping is golden and crispy; if the breadcrumb topping needs additional browning, just turn the broiler on low, and allow it to crisp up a bit more for a moment or two (don’t walk away from it); to finish the mac n’ cheese, sprinkle the remainder of the chopped, crispy prosciutto over the top, as well as the chopped fresh chives, and serve immediately while hot.
Creamy, Three-Cheese Sauce ingredients:
4 cups low-fat milk
2 cups half and half
1 tablespoon chicken base (I used “Better Than Bouillon” reduced sodium)
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
• Pinch ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter
9 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups, heaping, grated extra sharp white cheddar
1 ½ cups, heaping, grated jalapeno jack cheese
1 ½ cup, heaping, grated Gruyere cheese
1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
-Add the milk, half and half, chicken base, garlic, salt, white pepper and nutmeg into a medium-sized pot, and place over medium heat; bring the mixture to a good simmer, whisk to blend so that all ingredients within are combined, and turn off the heat; keep warm.
-Place a large (preferably non-stick) pot over medium-low heat, and add the butter in; once melted, add in the flour, and stir to combine to form the “roux”, or thickener for the sauce, and allow it to cook for about 1 minute to cook out the raw flour taste; next, slowly pour the hot milk/half and half mixture into the roux, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps from forming; allow the mixture to come to the simmer for about 2-3 minutes, whisking occasionally, to allow the sauce to thicken and tighten up a bit; once thickened, turn the heat off, and add the grated cheeses into the cream sauce, one at a time, whisking very well to blend between each addition of cheese; whisk in the lemon juice; once smooth and blended, cover and keep warm until ready to use, or cool completely, and keep in a covered container in the fridge until ready to use, when it can be re-heated gently.