Mac and Cheese

macaroni and cheese baked

I eat carbs and lots of them. Some of my favorite carb alternatives are mashed potatoes, french fries, and chocolate chip cookies. The top of my carb list, however, has to be macaroni and cheese.

I have been perfecting my macaroni and cheese dish since 1993. I started out with the basic recipe my mom always used. She cooked the macaroni noodles, drained them, added butter, milk, and chunks of cheddar cheese in with the noodles and heated on the stovetop. Before baking in a casserole dish in the oven, she added some crumbled Saltine crackers and a few pats of butter to the top. I loved her macaroni and cheese. Little did I know how much better it could be.

Here is the recipe that kicked off the macaroni and cheese improvement plan. I am posting the original recipe but am also including some RoomMom modifications at the end. I will eat this dish for dinner, leftover for breakfast, or packed in a school lunch to be eaten at room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 lb. corkscrew pasta (cavatappi)
  • 5 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 t. salt
  • 3 c. grated white cheddar cheese
  • 3 c. grated orange cheddar cheese

macaroni and cheese cheese

Directions

  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with Pam.
  • Fill a large saucepan with salted water, bring to a boil, then cook pasta according to directions on the box. Follow the time for al dente.
  • Transfer pasta to a colander, drain well, and set aside.

macaroni and cheese noodles

  • In the empty saucepan, melt 6 T. butter over medium heat. When butter bubbles, stir in flour. Cook, whisking, for about one minute.

macaroni and cheese roux

  • Continue to whisk and add milk a little at a time. After adding all of the milk, whisk constantly for about 7 minutes or so until the sauce thickens and bubbles around the edges. Remove from heat.

macaroni and cheese sauce

  • Stir in salt, pepper, 2 1/4 cups of each of the cheeses.
  • Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until the sauce covers the pasta.
  • Add the pasta and sauce mixture to the casserole dish, sprinkle with remaining grated cheese, and bake until golden brown on top (about 25 minutes).

macaroni and cheese casserole

Notes

  • I use any non-spaghetti like pasta I have on hand. I make this dish with elbow macaroni, penne, bow tie noodles, shell noodles, or any other smaller sized noodle.
  • I like to mix up the cheese. I use about the amount called for in the recipe, but I usually use a combination of whatever is in my refrigerator. I always have cheddar as the main cheese. I like Cracker Barrel extra sharp orange and Cracker Barrel Vermont white. I usually reduce the cheddar amount a little and supplement with freshly grated Parmesan, some freshly grated Swiss, and I recently started adding several slices of American. Other than the American, I think the cheese needs to be grated at home. The pre-grated cheese does not have as much flavor or melt as well (in my opinion).
  • I eyeball the butter, flour, and milk amounts. If you are following this recipe for the first time, cook as instructed. Adjust to your taste the next time you make it (and I firmly believe you will be making this recipe a second time).
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Sound Cards

sound card popcorn

Miss Priss has a new nightly homework assignment. She brings home sound cards, and we review letter and word sounds with her to practice the phonics instruction she gets at school. Miss Priss thinks it is a little boring since she already knows her letter sounds and has a pretty good reading level for a 6-year old. I am trying to explain the importance of recognizing individual letter sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words and how letters combine to make specific sound patterns in English. My teacher explanation is lost on her.

TheRoomDad actually saved the day on this one because he started creating word games at the dinner table that take care of the sound practice without making it seem like we are running flashcards (point for TheRoomDad). Any child at the beginning stages of reading needs a good foundation of letter sounds and how sounds combine. This will translate into good reading and spelling skills down the road when kids encounter unfamiliar words. Whether your family has actual sound cards or not, play some sound activities at the dinner table, in the car, during bath time, walking down the aisles at the grocery store, or any random free moment to reinforce good reading skills.

This is a

This is a “giggling pig” and actually represents the short “i” sound. Miss Priss thinks the card should have an igloo rather than the giggling pig.

Name words that have a particular sound at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

  • Give your child a starting sound/letter and call out any words that begin with that sound. If you call out “M” as in marshmallow, name other words that start with the “M” sound (monkey, mommy, moon). Now move the “M” sound to the end of words. Call out any words where you can hear the “M” at the end (home, lamb, room, clam). Don’t worry if the word is not spelled with an “M” at the end. For this activity, children are listening for the sound only. Now, find words with the “M” sound in the middle. This activity is the hardest (lemon, computer, hammer). If you want to throw a little extra challenge in the mix, try to think of words that have the “M” sound in the beginning AND middle (mummy, mermaid).

sound card letters on back

Create a whole sentence that includes words that all start with the same sound.

  • This is harder than you might think. Throw out a sound and see if your child can create a whole sentence with words that start with the same sound. You could also play a game where each person adds one word going around in a circle. Try making a sentence will all “S” sounds at the beginning, for example (Sally swam speedily). See who can make the longest sentence with words that all start with the same letter.

Find pictures in magazines, catalogs, reading books, etc. that have specific letter sounds at the beginning, middle, or end.

Give a category and name any words that start with a specific letter sound for that category (animals, desserts, jobs, sports, etc.).

sound card lamb

Not only will these simple strategies build sound awareness, they will also build vocabulary. It may seem super easy to a child to list words that match a letter sound, but it will strengthen phonics skills and contribute to better reading skills in later grades. Anyone have suggestions for other simple word games you can play with children that will have a positive impact on reading and spelling skills?

SBP.FunWithPhonicsAndPhonemicAwareness.6.24.15

Book v. Movie

chitty chitty car

I read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang this summer by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. It is the only children’s book that Ian Fleming wrote, and there are many James Bond influences in the book. Chitty has all kinds of cool car gadgets, and the Potts family gets involved in catching a group of gangsters. What? You don’t remember gangsters in the Dick Van Dyke movie version of Chitty?

chitty chitty bang bangOther than a car named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a father who is an inventor, there is very little resemblance between the movie and the book. There are so many movies-based-on-books that barely refer back to the original text. Here are a few book/movie combinations that I disliked, and others that I do like. How do you feel about favorite books that are made into movies?

mr poppers penguins

The movie is nothing like the book.

  • Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang by Ian Feming— Reviews of the 1968 movie do say “loosely based” on the book. Here is a little nugget of trivia; Roald Dahl wrote the script for the movie. When I learned about Dahl, the creepy child catcher made a lot more sense to me.
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater— Critics call the Jim Carrey version of the movie an updated interpretation. If by updated, they mean take every part of the book and do the opposite, they did a good job.
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett— Here is my review of the movie: stupid. Apparently, I am the only one who feels this way. The movie was so successful, there is a sequel coming soon.
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien— At least the movie producers had the decency to change the name for the movie to The Secret of NIMH. The whole intelligent rats who have a conscience about stealing (irony) and create a plan, so they no longer steal electricity is pretty fantastical. Why did the movie have to throw a magic stone into the mix?

charlie and the chocolate factory

Don’t miss reading the book, but the movies are good too.

  • Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis— Movies released in 2005, 2008, 2010. I still have fond memories of the animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from 1979.
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl— I like both the Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp versions. The Johnny Depp version is truer to the book.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White— I think everyone loves the animated film from 1973.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum— Judy Garland movie from 1939. I have not seen the recent Oz movie released in 2013.
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee— It is hard to fault Gregory Peck.

freaky friday

The movie resembles the book (more or less), but I would not recommend seeing the movie.

  • Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks— Movie released in 1995, the Omri character is too irritating.
  • Tale of Despereaux by Kate DeCamillo— Movie released in 2008, Sigourney Weaver narrated.
  • Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers— Movie released in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis was bad. My memory of the 1976 movie with Jodie Foster is good. I may need to watch the earlier movie again.
  • The Borrowers by Mary Norton— I have not see the 1997 version with John Goodman. I took my children to see the Secret World of Arrietty released in 2010 and promptly fell asleep.

black stallion

Here are some that are up for debate at our house:

  • The Black Stallion by Walter Farley— TheRoomDad loved this movie as a child. My memory is a movie that was looong and boring.
  • The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford— I think I would like Homeward Bound released in 1993 better if I did not know about the book and the original animals and setting.

Teacher Tip

sample workbooks

Teachers receive many booklets with reproducible student pages inside. It is easy to recognize this type of teacher material because it looks just like a student workbook but may have 3 holes punched in it. The idea is to have the teacher remove the pages when needed, make copies for students, then start a materials binder that will hold the student worksheet until the teacher needs to copy it again.

Teachers rarely remove the pages because the pages do not pull out easily. The pages tear. The pages get mangled when a person tries to oh-so-carefully remove them along the handy perforation the book publisher provides. Instead, TheRoomMom teachers will push the entire book flat on the copy machine while the copy machine (who think it is smarter than you are) reorients the page, so it copies landscape rather than portrait, and you get a copy of a half a page and a good shot of your arm and watchband.

workbook pages separated

I found a solution. An instructor at a professional development class I attended this summer told me to put the book that you want to separate in the freezer for several hours. When you pull the book out of the freezer, bend the pages back, and the glue will crack. Voila. You can separate all pages and reassemble in a binder.

workbook pages in binder

I apologize to my non-educator followers who might not find today’s post useful. On the other hand, if you have been desperate to find a way to cleanly remove pages from the heavy glue binding in a book, this might just be the tip that will change your world.

cover of workbook in binder

Sunday Linner

tomato pie baked

As soon as school starts, I lose touch with many friends until I resurface again in May when school ends for the year. This year, I am going to make more of an effort to be in better contact. It starts today with a Sunday family lunch/dinner. One of my mom friends from swim team is having us over this afternoon for late lunch/early dinner. It is a perfect time. I can still get all of my Sunday chores finished. We will be home in plenty of time to get kids ready to go back to school tomorrow and be in bed at a reasonable time, and I don’t need a babysitter since the kids are included. My contribution to this afternoon’s linner is a tomato pie.

What are other easy ways to stay in touch with adult friends during the school year? Do you feel like you disappear when after school activities and school projects start?

tomato pie slice

Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust (I use store bought)
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag basil, chopped
  • 1/2 bag chives, chopped
  • 4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c. to 3/4 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  • Cook pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned. Remove from the oven and let cool. You may need to put uncooked beans or other pie weights in the pie crust to keep it from puffing up while it cooks.
  • Turn the oven down to 350 degrees after the pie shell is finished.

tomato pie tomato slices

  • While the pie crust is baking, cut tomatoes in slices and let drain on paper towel for 30 minutes.
  • In cooked pie shell, layer tomatoes, basil, chives, and green onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and repeat.

tomato pie layers

  • Mix mayonnaise and grated cheese and top the pie with the cheese mixture. You don’t have to spread the cheese mixture too much. Just dollop on the center and push down with the back of a spoon. It will spread as it bakes.
  • Sprinkle the bacon bits on top.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

tomato pie toppings

I would like to give a shout out to the 30306 Book Club without which I would not have this tomato pie recipe. Many years ago when I was fun and single, I had an amazing book club in Atlanta. This recipe is from that book club. I miss you!