Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Yesterday morning, before leaving for work, I marveled at how cold it was. We have one room in the house that is hard to keep warm on very cold days. We call it the sunroom because it has a lot of windows and great light, plus a view of the yard and garden. The room is off the kitchen, and it’s where we eat most of our meals.

As I said it’s hard to keep the sunroom warm, so when it’s really frightful out, we just leave the programmable thermostat on hold. Actually, we leave the entire downstairs on hold to help keep the sunroom warm. As I left for work, I glanced at the thermostat and was surprised that it was only 57 degrees. (It was set to 65.) I just chalked it up to how cold it was outside.

When I came home from work, the house seemed chilly. I checked the thermostat and found the sunroom temperature was down to 54 degrees. It seemed odd, but I didn’t give it that much thought. It did make me think I needed a belly-warming dinner, some real comfort food.

Getting dinner ready got me warmed up, and my meal succeeded in warming me from the inside out. When I sat down in the living room to read, it occurred to me again that the house was on the cold side. I checked the downstairs thermostats. It was in the high 50s, again odd since the temperature was set to 65.

I paid a visit to the furnace in the basement. It didn’t seem right, not that I knew what I was looking for. I touched various parts of the furnace, and though I detected some warmth (or thought I did), nothing was actually hot. Still I wasn’t sure. (Did I mention that Howard is away on a business trip? Somewhere warmer than New England?)

By now, it was bedtime. When Bella and I went for her bedtime walk, I was surprised that it was not as cold outside as I thought (it was in the high 20’s instead of less than 10). Back inside, the upstairs thermostat read in the high 50s. Again it seemed odd, but I knew the temperature was set for 55 degrees for sleeping. Maybe I was off on the timing of the cycle? So, I went to bed. I took the precaution of putting on socks to keep me warmer. Amazingly I took them off while I slept. Down comforters are the best!

In the morning, I knew something was definitely wrong. The bedroom was cold — in the mid-50’s. It should have heated up before the alarm went off. I got dressed for dog walking, checking thermostats downstairs on the way to the door. It was down to 52 in the living room, and in the sun room, it was only 47. The house definitely did not have any heat.

At 6 a.m., it seemed too early to call anyone, so Bella and I headed out for our morning walk. Then, I took a shower. There was plenty of hot water, and the bathroom fan has a heater. Finally, around 7:30, I called the plumber.

This has a happy ending. Today was definitely my lucky day. The plumber called me back 5 minutes later and said he’d be over within a half hour. He arrived 20 minutes later, and an hour after that, the furnace was fixed. The thermocoupler went bad. I even arrived at work in time for my first meeting at 9:30.

When I came home tonight, everything was normal.

When my house was abnormally cold, to warm myself up, I decided to make my favorite comfort food, macaroni and cheese.

Cheese in any form is my most favorite food. We are always trying new kinds. Inevitably, we end up with a hodgepodge of small bits of lots of different kinds of cheese, slightly past their prime for snacking, hanging out in the deli drawer.

When enough cheese bits accumulate, it’s time to make what I sometimes call “clean out your fridge” macaroni and cheese. This version also calls for salsa, another favorite food. Partially filled (or emptied, depending on how you look at things) jars of salsa also tends to congregate in my fridge.

For years, my favorite pasta for mac and cheese was ziti or penne. I was never a big fan of elbow macaroni. They are just too puny. My current favorite pasta for mac and cheese is cavatappi, a curly form of elbow macaroni, bigger and wider than the basic. When I first discovered this noodle, only Barilla made it, but it must have become a popular shape because now it also comes in the supermarket brand.

The recipe is flexible, so use whatever cheese and pasta you have on hand. Last night, I found smoked gouda, Emmenthaler, Comte, and a lot of unlabelled remnants. I also had a half jar of my brother-in-law Danny’s homemade salsa from their garden. As I said, I usually use this as a vehicle for emptying the refrigerator, though I usually have to buy milk since we seldom have that on hand.

“Clean Out the Fridge” Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 8

¼ cup (4 Tbsp) butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups salsa (red, green, or a combination)
3 cups grated cheese (I use an assortment of the leftover bits, but, if you are getting cheese specifically for this recipe, I recommend cheddar)
1 lb cavatappi (or penne or ziti)
Salt to taste
1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs combined with 1 Tbsp melted butter
A handful of chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. When the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. When the pasta is almost done, drain and return to the large pot.

At the same time, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook until the mixture turns golden (about 2 minutes). Add the milk, and whisk (somewhat constantly, but you can walk away from time to time) until the mixture thickens. Stir in the salsa. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese until it melts.

Stir the cheesy mixture into the cooked and drained pasta. Stir well to combine. Taste it. It might need salt. Season to taste.

Transfer the mixture to a large baking dish (approximately 13×9 or 4 quarts). Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the pasta.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the breadcrumbs are browned.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro before serving.

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Posted on 12 January 2010, in General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Yum! I love it when Shawn makes “real” mac-n-cheese or at least doctors up the boxed stuff with bits of real cheese. Yum. Recently, we had cheese made with lavender and coffee beans!

  2. Hi Betsy! I just made your mac and cheese recipe tonight for dinner. I cut the salsa amount in half, and still it turned the mixture slightly pinkish. But it tasted yummy and my whole family liked it!

    Thanks for sharing!!
    Lauren.

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