Every home cook constantly concocts various add-in combinations for boxed macaroni and cheese. The options are endless, thankfully, because when it’s after 5 pm and dinner plans are nonexistent you need a shortcut.
Today’s rain ended with a beautiful sunset and a chill in the air, perfect for comfort food. Included in “comfort food” is wine, of course. A bottle of simple Pinot Noir sat unopened and lonely in my cupboard so I decided to invite Annie and her Shells and WhiteCheddar boxed macaroni and cheese. To make it a party I also gathered maitake mushrooms, cooked ham, swiss cheese, and fresh thyme; all are very friendly with Pinot Noir.
Mushrooms in Japan are delicious and very affordable; I always have a variety on hand. I selected the maitake this evening, instead of the shiitake I also have, because they only had a few usable days left. The ham is leftover from a six-pound, bone-in pork butt I baked recently specifically for the leftovers which are so incredibly delicious and versatile. The swiss cheese is self-explanatory, I always have sliced cheese, if I ever don’t I might as well be dead. Thyme is one of my very favorite herbs and I am so happy that my little plant is producing a fantastic harvest of tiny thyme leaves! Every time I step out on to my front porch and snip some sprigs off I want to run joyously up and down the sidewalk proclaiming my love for fresh thyme.
I could stop here because if you can make boxed macaroni and cheese you can probably figure out the rest but I will add my “recipe” and cooking method because this is my blog and I choose to.
Thyme for Ham, Mushrooms, and Macaroni & Cheese
1 box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 cup cooked ham, chopped or cubed
2 slices of swiss cheese, torn into smaller pieces
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (give or take to taste)
1-2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. half-and-half (or milk)
1. Begin to boil water for the macaroni noodles; while the water heats and the noodles cook you will prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Melt butter in a skillet on medium heat; add mushrooms and sauté until soft, 5 minutes or so. Remove mushrooms and all the buttery liquid into a small bowl, set aside.
3. Lower heat for skillet as low as it will go, add the ham and cover the pan. The ham is already cooked and just needs to be warmed but must retain its moisture.
4. Drain the noodles when they are cooked. While they are draining pour the reserved buttery mushroom liquid into the warm sauce pan (on low heat) and swirl it around; then add the cooked noodles and stir them so they are covered in the butter.
5. Add the powdered cheese packet; stir. Pour about 1 tbsp. of half-and-half into the packet, swish it around to capture the hidden cheese powder and add it to the pot; stir until the powder is dissolved.
6. Add the swiss cheese pieces; stir. Add the ham; stir. Add the mushrooms; stir. Add the thyme; stir. When all the ingredients look combined it is done.
Don’t forget about the Pinot Noir. Hopefully you opened the bottle while you were cooking and tasted the various ingredients alone and in combination with each other between sips, paying attention to how the flavors played with each other. Really, that is the best practice of learning how to match and complement wine with food. And it’s fun.
P.S. Remember to check the damaged food section of your grocery store, that is where I found this macaroni and cheese for 79¢ a box. There was a tiny bend with no perforation or tear and a sell-by date far in the future. Score!