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Mama's got the blues Mac 'n' Cheese

My all-mac-n-cheese cookbook

As if the weather on Thursday weren't enough to send you into a major-league funk, we had to find out that the Mississippi Coast once again has been overlooked for "American Idol" auditions. Eight sites and none closer than -- well -- many, many miles away.

As if...

But funky weather tends to intensify the need for comfort food, something hot, something homemade, something that makes you feel safe and protected. Safe and protected; appreciate if you've got it.

Anyway, what can you make after work that satisfies this quite specific and seriously intense need? Good ol' reliable never-lets-you-down mac 'n' cheese. Not the kind you bake in the oven with crumbs and cheese cubes on top but an oh-so-satisfying stovetop version that you can piddle with and change about till you get it exactly the way you like it. The one thing you don't want to tinker with is the evaporated milk.

Trashy? That's what my all-mac-n-cheese cookbook says -- at first. But then it sings the praises of the mellow smoothness the canned milk brings to the sauce, especially when you consider this dish gets zero oven time.

Shoot, you can even melt a few little wedges of Laughing Cow (what IS Laughing Cow? cheese food substitute stuff?) in with the elbows and grated cheeses.

When surreal TV or simply life throws you a curve ball, dodge it and make some of this ooey-gooey stuff. You'll feel way tons better.


12 ounces small elbow macaroni

8 ounces evaporated milk (I've never tried it with fat-free, cause where's the comfort in that?)

12 ounces of any sharp Cheddar, shredded

6 ounces of Jack or Gouda (smoked Gouda is a bit much, but a couple of ounces is good)

1/3 to 1/2 cup a hard grating cheese like Parmesan

1 to 2 shakes of hot sauce (I love Crystal or one with garlic)

4 to 6 tablespoons of sour cream or Greek yogurt

1/4 cup Dijon mustard, or to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon paprika, or to taste

1/4 cup pickled jalapenos, chopped

I really must begin by saying I don't freshly grate these cheeses, not after work. Mea culpa, I keep shredded cheese in the fridge all the time. Quick, call the kitchen police. It really is better freshly shredded, but hey, you're feeling funky here. Who wants to grate when you're down.

Cook the pasta till al dente and drain.

In a good heavy pot, heat the milk over medium heat (watch it, it will foam over in a heartbeat) until bubbles begin to form at the edges. Turn the fire low, toss in the pasta, then begin to add the cheeses, say, in 3 or 4 batches, so the cheese has time to melt into the milk and envelop the macaroni.

Stir in hot sauce, sour cream, mustard, salt and pepper if you think you need it; cheese can be pretty salty on its own, particularly if you use pecorino instead of Parmesan.

When everything is warm, sprinkle on the paprika. I once used this lovely smoked Spanish kind, but halfway through that particular mac-n-cheese orgy, it got to be a bit too much. Experiment if you love smoked paprika.

Scatter on the pickled jalapenos and chow down.

One parting note: If anyone -- are you listening? Anyone -- knows where to get good thick Greek yogurt, sound off, will ya?