Pack & Cheese

I’m not big on jewelry. Good thing considering that early on in our relationship Tim gave me these:

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Apparently this is normal (and I’ll admit somewhat endearing) when the guy you’re dating is from Wisconsin.

And, as Tim learned, when you’re marrying a girl from Tennessee, it’s the norm to have a groom’s cake at your wedding. Here’s his:

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June 19, 1999: Say Cheese!

After saying “I do”, it has been understood that Velveeta is never, ever allowed in our home under any circumstance. Nor is any Chicago Bear paraphernalia since, of course, we cheer for the Packers.

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So, in honor of the Pack’s 5th trip to the Super Bowl, we offer our favorite mac & cheese. Oops! I mean “Pack & Cheese” as Tim has officially rechristened it.  Yellow cheese, green peas, and as our five year old pointed out “brown ham, kinda like Aaron Rodgers’ beard” make this the perfect thing to eat on Sunday while cheering “Go Pack Go!”

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“Pack & Cheese”

adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s New Best Recipes

I prefer to keep this simple and on the stovetop, so I skip a bread crumb topping. I use cavatappi rather than elbow noodles or macaroni but you can use whatever you prefer. I also upped the spices a bit, adding a bay leaf and Tabasco.

Serves 6 as a main dish, 10-12 as a side dish. Can easily be halved.

  • 1 lb. cavatappi
  • kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • bay leaf
  • 5 cups milk (skim, 2%, or whole all work fine – we usually use skim)
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) Monterey Jack cheese, freshly grated (please don’t use the preshredded stuff)
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) white or yellow extra sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated (again, don’t give into temptation – grate it yourself, you’ll be glad you did!)
  • 1 pound bag of frozen peas (no need to defrost) and/or broccoli or spinach
  • 8 ounces of baked ham or a ham steak, sliced thick and cut into cubes
  • Tabasco sauce, for sprinkling at table (try it!)

Boil cavatappi until “al dente”, being sure to really salt the water with kosher salt – it should taste like the ocean. Drain and set aside.

In your now empty pot, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, cayenne, and bay leaf and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to full boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, remove the bay leaf and whisk in cheeses and kosher salt to taste. Mix until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta, peas, and ham and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes. Serve with Tabasco if desired.

To reheat leftovers: Warm gently on stovetop, not the microwave, and add milk as needed to get sauce creamy again.

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