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a middle of the week feast

If you are like me, you find the meals squished in the middle of the week kind of slacking. I mean, there is only so much you can do, right? Between working 8-9 hours in a cubicle, commuting to and from work for 30 minutes in traffic, and trying to maintain a positive demeanor no matter how many times your fellow coworkers say something rude, dinner is literally the last thing on my mind. Normally on these days, I come home moaning and groaning and my mid-week grumps kill any reasonable ideas for dinner. Instead, I dream of something sinfully inappropriate like ice cream or peanut butter for dinner. Straight out of the jar. With my fingers. Oops.

But a girl’s got to eat dinner eventually, and on these days, a simple stir-fry just won’t do. Sometimes, it takes a monstrously cheesy meal filled with melted goodness to remind you of the finer things in life. Sometimes, you have to turn to Ms. Stewart, the queen of delicious dinners.

I’m finally putting my newly purchased Martha Stewart Living: The New Classics to good use and bookmarked her recipe for macaroni and cheese. On this lowly Wednesday, only the best would do. After a quick stop to pick up some cheese ( 7 bucks a chunk?! Are you serious?!), I got to working on this dish.

The word “Gratineed” means a browned crust of bread crumbs and grated cheese and this is exactly what makes this dish so perfect. The different textures in this dish all blend together, creating an interesting meal. From the mushy tomatoes to the melted cheese and the crispy bread crumbs, it’s a treat.

I know I featured another Macaroni and Cheese recipe a while ago but believe me, this one had to be mentioned. The other Macaroni and Cheese a la the Smitten Kitchen was a little more down-home, if you get my drift. It is comfort food to the T. Plus, it was a little less time-consuming and you could probably whip it up pronto. The cheese literally dripped off the pasta, and nice pools of butter graced the bottom of my baking pan. This one, on the other hand, feels more refined. The tomatoes add to the aesthetic of the dish. Yes, it feels a little more Martha-Stewart-ish. Go figure, right?

I skipped a couple of steps in this recipe, despite my better intentions of trying to complete the entire thing. I left out the bread crumbs because I didn’t have any stale bread and I wanted to focus on the pasta itself. Also, when making the cheese sauce, I used skim milk, which some consider a big sin, but let’s face it: this dish doesn’t really need more fat. The cheese sauce ended up being nice and light, not heavy and overly dense.

I served this dish up with a big plate of greens to counteract the “healthy” portion of fat/cheese/etc in this meal. One bite into the melted, warm cheese and all the day’s troubles faded away. All that mattered was this macaroni and cheese dish. Oh, and me eating more of it! I am glad to report that I went to bed that night, a happy, smiling, and slightly overstuffed girl. Job well done, Martha.

Gratinéed Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes
from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics

16 ounces elbow macaroni<!–elbow macaroni–><!—->
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for dish
1 1/4 cups baguette, torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, diivided
3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
1 quart milk (I used skim)
5 tablespoons flour
1 pinch nutmeg
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
16 ounces fresh tomato, cut into 1 inch chunks
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking dish or a 3 quart casserole dish; set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, and pour over the bread in a medium bowl; toss. Add 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, toss.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Cook pasta until just beginning to soften, 2 to 3 minutes (it will not be fully cooked). Drain and rinse.
Warm the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat the remaining 5 tablespoons butter in high-sided skillet or pot over medium until foaming. Add the flour; whisk one minute. Slowly whisk in the warm milk. Cook, whisking, until bubbling and thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, the nutmeg, and cheese to pan; stir until the cheese is melted.
Stir the pasta and tomatoes into the cheese sauce. Pour into the buttered dish; sprinkle with the bread topping. Bake until bubbling and golden, about 30 minutes. let cool slightly before serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

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May 2, 2008 - 12:51 pm

airb - That looks good,except for the tomatoes-yuck! You seem like a funny person!

May 2, 2008 - 5:32 pm

Tarah - Oh man. That looks awesome!

May 2, 2008 - 9:16 pm

Cakespy - As usual, elegant and delicious sounding! And as to AirB–quit the tomato hatin’! (kidding!)

May 2, 2008 - 9:58 pm

Chuck - OMG, the perfect comfort food Macc and cheese. Love it!

May 3, 2008 - 4:53 am

Healthy Women Food - Those cheese, tomato macaroni looks delicious!

Simply love it.

It sure looks like something from a tender, loving and caring mom…

May 3, 2008 - 7:54 am

Nilmandra - Mmm I like the looks of the tomatoes addition. Will bookmark this, thanks!

May 3, 2008 - 8:33 am

rkhooks - MMMMmmmmm miam miam, I love M & C when it’s done well and serving it with a green bean salad is just purrrrrrrfect. Delish!

May 3, 2008 - 12:22 pm

brilynn - I love anything cheesy!

Welcome to the Daring Bakers, good luck with this month’s challenge!

May 4, 2008 - 2:07 pm

Sophie - I just discovered your site via Maple Sugar’s :). I really like this recipe. You’re right, it seems that weekday dinners are usually boring and plain…but I love how this is still fun because of the different textures. Plus, it looks ridiculously fresh, I imagine it’s pretty darn healthy too. OOOh, and I just noticed that you just joined Daring Bakers. I just joined too, nice meeting you! :)

May 8, 2008 - 10:38 am

joythebaker - OMG! This pasta would totally satisfy my craving today. I looks beautiful! I’m loving your photos too! Work it out girl!

October 30, 2008 - 7:16 am

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