Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole – 27/67

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Today is day 17 of my quarantine in Brooklyn. 

18 days ago, I cautiously went out for dinner, took the subway, met a friend for coffee, waited in a line that wrapped around the whole grocery store. 18 days feels like a year ago. This day 18 days ago didn’t feel like a particularly noteworthy day (besides the long check-out line), but has now become a symbol of everything that changed since then. 

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Since then, like you (I hope), I have left my apartment rarely. I have not gone more than 5 blocks from my home, besides one bike ride. I have ordered takeout 0 times. I have washed more dishes than I thought possible. I have slogged through the workday to the hum of (still considered “essential”????) construction next door. I haven’t done laundry and am still not sure where/how/when we will accomplish that. I have gotten very mad at online grocery delivery services whose websites break and who have no delivery times available, and who I am continuing to find empathy for. I have cycled between work leggings – sleep leggings – yoga leggings – repeat. I have gone stir crazy and sang dramatic musical theater songs at the top of my lungs. 

And also — I have cried at NYTimes push notifications calling the hospitals in my beautiful city “an apocalypse”. I have cried while donating to GoFundMes for our local restaurants and bars. I have cried about all the plays that had to close early, the artists out of work, the nonprofits wondering how they will keep up their payroll. I have cried about the health care workers putting their lives at risk to treat the flood of patients that isn’t slowing down. I have teared up at many a casual “how are you doing”, because the answer is still, well, not great. 

And also — I celebrated my one year anniversary not by visiting one of the best omakase places in NYC (in the Upper East Side, which might as well be as far away as Alaska at this point), but instead by making a version of ma po tofu with the somewhat correct ingredients we happened to have at home and by getting drunk on a full bottle of champagne leftover from our last party. I have made dinner with my remarkable husband every single night and shared a pot of coffee with him every single morning. I have gotten said husband to do online yoga classes with me! I have facetimed, zoomed, google hang-outed, phone called, texted, instagram messaged, keybased, and whatsapped friends I haven’t spoken to in months. I have felt extraordinarily lucky to be safe at home, still with a source of income, still eating well, still healthy. 

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I am cycling through being grateful, and scared, and anxious, and just sad like no other moment in my life. It gives me hope to know everyone else I know is experiencing this cycle too. And throughout all these micro-adjustments, we’re all cooking! All the time. I made a dorky silly google doc to track what we’re making for dinner — partly because it gives me some structure and partly because hey, I already did the work, maybe others can get inspiration from it? A mini blog. You can find that here. All recipes are loosely followed and adapted aplenty. 

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We’ve been making some comfort food, some projects, lots of fresh veggies, many easy pantry meals. In the comfort food category: I can’t believe I’ve never shared my Grandma Evie’s mac and cheese recipe. It is one of the first foods I remember eating growing up, one of the first things I made for a dinner party in college, a staple at every family event (especially alongside bagels and lox at brunch!). Most of the family fought over the crunchy parts on top, but I always liked the creamy core more. My mom always said her version wasn’t as good as her mom’s, and mine is likely not as good as either of theirs. 

The recipe is from my great-grandma Aranka, a Hungarian immigrant to NYC (hence the paprika finishing this recipe). When I get overwhelmed with what’s going on in the world, I take comfort in thinking all I have to do is stay at home, in constant contact with my family and loved ones, and I should be safe. I can’t imagine the trip taken by my great-grandparents, escaping hateful countries, getting on a boat to a new home, with no way to communicate besides snail mail. I think of these family stories and am strengthened: New York City, and its vast network of resilient residents, will recover. It may not be how it was before, but it will be back. People always need food and art and gathering places. We will pick up the pieces and move always forward. We just need to stay the f home and cook cook cook. 

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one year ago: caramelized onion and goat cheese hamantashen
four years ago: kung pao Brussel sprouts and tofu
five years ago: spicy lemon fregola with artichokes and caramelized onions (omg I might actually have everything to make this during quarantine!!)

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

passed down from my spunky Great Grandma Aranka

Most of a 1 lb box of pasta (elbows are traditional, for yesterday’s version I used part farfalle and part orecchiette)
About 8 oz cheese (a block of cheddar is great. I did half cheddar, half gouda)
One can tomato sauce (14 oz preferably, or 8 oz if that’s all you have in you pantry, like me)
Milk – one can’s worth
Salt and pepper
Paprika (I only have smoked and it’s great!)
**this time I added in a chopped chile in adobo sauce because it sounded good. It was!**

Preheat the oven to 350F. 

Boil your pasta in salty water til al dente. Drain. 

Grate your cheese into a big bowl. Add tomato sauce. Pour milk into the tomato sauce can and add to the bowl. Add chile in adobo if you’d like. Add drained pasta and a bit of salt and pepper. Mix together. If it looks dry, add a bit more milk. 

Pour pasta into a baking dish. Sprinkle paprika on top. Bake for 50 minutes, until bubbling and top is golden brown. Let a cool a bit before serving. This makes amazing leftovers, and can be frozen too.