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Fish 4 Friday: Why Let the Kids Get All the Good Stuff? Cajun Shrimp Mac 'n' Cheese

This entry is part of a series, F4F 2011»

Homemade Mac n Cheese

One of my favorite food magazines, Chile Pepper (sadly, it now appears the mag is defunct), recently shared an article that really attracted my attention. As a kid, I could eat my weight in my mom’s homemade macaroni-and-cheese. (My mom’s still the best home cook I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from.) Since those halcyon days, mac n’ cheese has pretty much gone out of my diet. It’s not that I like the stuff any less than before, mind you. No, it’s time; lack of it, specifically. (That’s my story.) That, and I don’t really care for the stuff in the box. Any of the boxed ones, really, powdered cheese or plastic cheese doesn’t matter.

Now my spouse, the beauteous PJ, can still eat her weight in the kid’s stuff. However, as a kid growing up, she never had any kind except the box product, with the powdered cheese. It’s still her favorite kind, in fact. (I’ve tried to at least get her off the powdered chemicals, but you know how some folks can be. I guess that’s what “loyalty” means.)

Never fear, though, the cheesy underdog is here! (I’ve been called worse.) I saw a recipe in that article I mentioned that’s sure to convert PJ over to something besides pulverized cheese simulacrum a better-tasting version of mac n’ cheese:

This ain’t your kiddie pasta and cheese, no sir! Cayenne, paprika, Cajun seasoning and red pepper flakes for zest; Gruyere, cream, mustard and butter for flavor and creaminess; shell pasta and cheddar cheese to make it at least a little bit familiar. It’s definitely comfort food, just not something the younger set will take much comfort from. As long as you don’t queer the pitch and let them try it let them know how good it really is. (Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you have to share.)

Mac n Cheese

Be sure to use good quality, medium size shrimp and peel and clean them well. You don’t really want to be fishing them out of this lovely concoction to get the shells off, yes? (Not that I’d ever make a mistake like that. Well, not more than twice.) Even leftover party shrimp will work in this dish. (Theoretically speaking, of course. You ever see any leftover shrimp at a party?) If you use bagged, frozen shrimp, let them thaw a bit before chopping and adding to the casserole.

The only way I can think of to “improve” this dish, besides more butter and more zesty spices, is to use homemade breadcrumbs. They’re easy to make, and they add a lot more flavor than traditional packaged crumbs. If you don’t care for shell pasta, try some rotini. I’d stay away from tubular pasta, though; the sauce won’t get inside much, so you’ll have a lot of uncoated pasta surface and that will affect the texture and flavor.

Explore to find your version of this great winter dish; just don’t let the kiddos know that they’re getting the box stuff for dinner…

Enjoy the (Cheesy Pasta With Shrimpies) Heat!

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