Trans-Atlantic flights, endless packing and unpacking of boxes and suitcases, and all the stress of job and apartment hunting have marked the last five months, but I can finally say we are settling into the new life ahead of us in the windy city, Chicago. I have to admit, adjusting back to the American way has been a struggle (reverse culture shock is always even more shocking…) and starting from scratch again has been trying, but I’m excited to explore this new city and make it our own, live just steps from Lake Michigan and be just a short drive away from my family.
Being in the midwest for this gorgeous fall has also helped to make the transition smoother, and my new neighborhood, Hyde Park, is brimming with places to enjoy it. This weekend we finally had a chance to stop and relax with old and new friends in one of my favorite new places, Premontory Point. Lots of people stick to the Northside of the city, but if you have the chance to spend a sunny day at this park on the Southside, it is well worth it. Jutting into the bluest blues of Lake Michigan, the park is a paradise of lush green grass, shady trees – that happened to be peaking with their golden color this weekend- and one of the best views of the complete Chicago skyline. We spent the early afternoon with a simple brunch picnic of veggie frittata, roasted squash, cheese and baguettes, and some sweet apple fritters and homemade cannelés. Can you guess what I brought 😉
Fresh air and warm sunshine, good food and golden leaves, and, best of all, great people. Welcome to Chicago!
I grew up on the blue box Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as a kid. It might have been the first thing I really learned to cook, and I can never remember a day that I wasn’t pleased to see that blue box on the counter. Living abroad a bowl of Kraft Mac and Cheese was hard to find, until my mom finally discovered the genius trick of sending me just the cheese envelopes, sans pasta and blue box. With a just little bit of butter, milk, and pasta suddenly a little package took me back to that taste of home.
I have to say with such fidelity to the blue box, actually making homemade mac and cheese never even occurred to me, it seemed time-consuming and obviously wouldn’t taste the same as what I was used to. But, living in France the world capital of cheese I started wondering how hard it really would be to whip up a homemade version with some of the fantastic French cheese I had in the fridge. It took me two years to finally get around to it, but making macaroni and cheese from scratch in the land of cheese has changed my view of mac and cheese forever!
So without further ado, here’s my easy ex-pat French Mac and Cheese.
(Adapted from Martha Stewart Meatless )
French (expat) Mac and Cheese
- 2 cups pasta (Elbows, Shells, or Rotini)
- 1 cup vegetable stock, divided in ½
- 2 ½ tbsp. flour
- ½ tbsp. butter
- Pinch of nutmeg and cayenne
- ¼ tsp thyme
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ cup parmesan, grated
- ¾ cup Gruyere, shredded
- ¾ cup Comté, shredded
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (rough, not fine, I put a chunk of an old baguette in the food processor)
- Cook the pasta as directed on package, drain and run in cold water. Pour into 9 inch casserole dish. *To save time, start the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
- In a small bowl mix together ½ the stock (1/2 cup) with the flour. Whisk until there are no lumps.
- In a sauce pan, melt the butter, stir in the spices and salt followed by the milk and remaining stock. Stir together.
- Add the flour mixture to the saucepan and stir quickly until incorporated. Cook on low heat, whisking frequently, for 10 minutes (keep an eye on it so the milk doesn’t boil over!)
- Add the cheese to the sauce. First stir in the parmesan until incorporated, then add the Gruyere and Comté until melted and smooth.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta in the casserole dish, stir until all the pasta is covered in the gooey delicious sauce.
- Sauté the breadcrumbs in ½ tbsp. butter or olive oil and season with thyme, pepper, and salt. Sprinkle the crumbs over the cheesy pasta, and add a little more thyme, salt and pepper.
- Bake the pasta for thirty minutes until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbly. Cool for 5-10 minutes and serve with carrot sticks or a small green salad.
Et, Voila! The blue box will always hold a place in my heart, but homemade French Mac and Cheese takes the cake with the creamy cheese and the subtle crunch of the toasted bread crumbs. Can’t wait to try it out with some of the other 365 French cheeses at the market!
One of the first shocks I had on arrival to France was the number of McDonald’s and how packed they always seem to be. It turns out France is only second to the USA in golden arch hamburger consumption. Really? what about the long French lunch at a typical French bistro with steak frites and a glass of wine? McDonald’s offers a faster option for modern France, where lunch breaks are getting shorter, and for French cuisine, McDo (“Mac-Doh”) offers a particularly Frenchified menu (Chevre or Raclette burgers with Sauce Bearnaise, and even a baguette sandwich to name just a few) with all the ingredients sourced from France, guaranteeing higher quality than your typical fast food.
I haven’t been much of a Mickey D’s fan for the last 20 years, but I have succumbed to the convenience of familiar the familiar a few times to get a quick, inexpensive bite to eat. I can’t say the food tasted much different compared to an American Mickey D’s, but the portions were a bit smaller and the decor and ambiance were more stylish and comfortable than I remembered, and who can resist the McCafé with macarons and cafe creme?
So, next time you’re in France you don’t have to feel so bad when you get the sudden urge to go somewhere familiar for an easy and inexpensive lunch-even though it is still fast food, choosing McDos is actually quite French.