Winter Appetite

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

Severe cold has been known to fracture glass and other materials, but how about personalities? At times I wonder if the Minnesota winter has fractured my personality; as the temperatures plummet below zero and my yard sparkles with crusty glistening snow, I seem to experience opposing food cravings. I find myself hankering for traditional comfort food, such as macaroni and cheese, chicken soup, meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Yet other times I crave the exact opposite; food full of spice and zing, like Southwestern spiced steak with chimichuri sauce or Latin fish tacos… Go figure!


My poor family (or should I say, lucky family?) gets dragged along for the culinary ride. When my daughter arrives home from high school, she often inquires hesitantly: “Mom, what’s for dinner tonight?” My response very often provokes some eye rolling and a deep sigh as she trudges upstairs to do her homework. One of my girls actually complained to me once “ Could we just order pizza, for a change?” When I had listed the dinner menu for that night. My poor girl was being forced to dine on saffron lemon chicken and basmati rice with pine nuts and currants. 
I know, terrible…

So, back to cooking! How about a recipe for delicious, flavorful macaroni and cheese that can be divided, frozen and reheated, maintaining creaminess and flavor? Sounds good? The original recipe is by Martha Stewart, tweaked by Debra from the Smitten Kitchen, and then tweaked even further by me. Cook up a batch, light the fire in the hearth, add a light salad and pour yourself a glass of wine. Enjoy winter!


Mac & Cheese
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics & The Smitten Kitchen
Serves 12

8 Tbsp unsalted butter + more for pan
2 cups panko
1 tsp garlic powder 
½ tsp Italian seasoning
5 ½ cup milk
½ cup AP flour
2 tsp kosher salt (more for pasta water)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne
4 ½ cups (about 18oz) grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8oz) grated Gruyere 
1 pound elbow macaroni


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9X13” casserole dish; set aside. Place the panko in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the panko; add the garlic powder and Italian seasoning and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
  2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
  3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
  5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyere (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.