In my childhood home, our phone would get a call every weekday around 1pm and we knew it was our dad calling for mom. He faithfully called her for lunch every day where they would talk about his day at work, what we kids were up to, how my mom was doing, and who knows what else because I was too busy bugging my mom trying to ask if I could go play with a friend.
As with many other things when I got married, this daily phone call seemed like one of those things that we married people needed to do. Don't all married people call each other every lunchtime and chat for half an hour? But the few times we tried this, we ran out of things to say in a few minutes and I got bored hearing about every little car he had worked on that morning and he got bored listening to me rant about the problems with the files I was sorting. Then at dinnertime, we had nothing to say about our days because we had already discussed everything. These calls became even more pointless when Josh got a desk job and we could periodically chat online throughout the day.
It took me a while to realize that my parents probably hadn't had lunchtime phone calls since they got married, but rather it started as a means to catch up when they were so busy juggling us kids and jobs and crazy schedules. I can imagine that some days they didn't really get to talk besides bedtime chats and those afternoon calls. Those chats were something they looked forward to and helped bring them closer together every single day.
Though we didn't need to call each other up every day for lunch, we both felt like we needed something to spice up the weekdays and make them more meaningful to our relationship. We needed something special that didn't require us to do anything fancy after a long day of work when watching Netflix on the couch sounds so amazing. We had our Friday night date nights, but that meant we spent Monday through Thursday eagerly waiting for the week to be over, rather than embracing the time in between.
So we recently started meeting for lunch once a week. And what began as just a way to break up our days has turned into something so much more. There's the bit of excitement as we haven't yet seen each other during the day (that goodbye kiss while I'm barely awake in the morning doesn't count) and we don't even know what each other is wearing as we anxiously wait for the other to walk in the door. We get a solid 45 minutes to just relax and chat and forget about work. We're more eager to put away our phones and just be, since in the hours before lunch we've had to go go go and the hours after will be work work work. The deadline of having to go back to work helps us make the most of our time together. And no matter what our days were like before our lunch, they're instantly turned around and the remaining hours of our work day are much more enjoyable. Our lunch days have turned into my favorite day of the week because of that extra time I get to spend with my husband.
One of our favorite places to lunch is a barbecue joint just around the corner from Josh's work that serves an INCREDIBLE mac and cheese. Gooey and cheesy with bits of pulled pork throughout and a hint of crunch with breadcrumbs on top. This recipe, though a favorite that we've had for a few years now, is inspired by this barbecue joint and the lovely lunch dates we've enjoyed there together.
To make things even more fun for you, you can customize this mac to your own tastes. You can sit down for a deep honest discussion about the merits of hot dogs over bacon or which cheese is best. Have fun deciding on the cheese and mix-ins and finding a favorite combination. And don't forget to have fun making it together!
Gourmet Mac & Cheese
Makes: 4 large servings
Perfect for: Nights when you need some customized comfort food.
Pair with: A salad. You'll need something light and refreshing to go with this.
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8oz. large elbow or shell pasta*
2 cups freshly grated cheese (See below)
1 cup optional add-ins (See below)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs**
Good Cheese Combinations:
2 cups Extra-Sharp Aged Cheddar (Classic! Don't settle for any age less than 1 year)
1 cup Pecorino Romano + 1 cup Jack (Great italian flavor)
1 cup Swiss + 1 cup Jack
1 cup Smoked Gouda + 1 cup Jack (Great for meaty macs)
2 cups Aged White Cheddar
2 cups Pepper Jack (For those that like a kick)
1 3/4 cups Jack + 1/4 cup Blue Cheese
Cook all add-ins before hand as they will not fully cook in the mac
Anything else you can think of!
Pro Tip: Prepare all ingredients before hand (i.e. grate cheese, fry and chop bacon, etc.) as you will need to work quickly and don't want your noodles or sauce to get cold while you're chopping up fix-ins.
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees.
In a medium saucepan, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until not quite al dente (it will cook a little more in the sauce). Drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
In a heatproof bowl, heat the milk in the microwave being careful not to let it boil, about 3 minutes.
Add the butter to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. While whisking the butter mixture, slowly pour in the milk.
Set the pot back over medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon as the sauce thickens. Once the sauce is thick and smooth, add in the salt.
If you plan to create 2 completely different types of mac with different cheese combinations, split the sauce between 2 saucepans and continue, using 1 cup of cheese, a 1/2 cup of add-ins, and half of the pasta per pan. If you both want the same mac, continue on in the same pot!
Add in your cheese, stirring just until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes. Add in the cooked pasta and your selected add-ins, stirring continuously over the heat for another five minutes.
Spoon into ramekins or baking dishes. Top with a healthy coating of Panko and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until bubbling around the edges.
*Don't go for the average little macaronis, they'll be too small to catch your sauce. I can find large macaroni at my small-town Walmart grocery in the green "Creamette" boxes. If you can't find that, shells will do the job.
**If you would like a nice toasty breadcrumb topping, spread your breadcrumbs onto a baking pan and bake in a 400 degree oven for 3 minutes or until light brown. You can easily do this while the oven is preheating and you are making the mac. Put your spouse in charge of it ;)
Adapted from The Mac & Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo & Erin Wade