Fiesty Fiesta Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese

Think you can’t make homemade mac and cheese?

Think again.

It’s sooooooo easy.

Fiesty Fiesta Mac 'n Cheese!

Fiesty Fiesta Mac ‘n Cheese!

This recipe is for what I call Fiesty Fiesta Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese, but if you prefer just plain old mac ‘n cheese without any extra stuff, just make the cheese sauce and the pasta.  You don’t have to be all fancy all the time.

So to make regular Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese, just skip steps 1, 3, 5, 8, 14, and the last half of 15 :)

You can easily make this dish vegetarian by skipping the meat part.

You can easily make this dish gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta and making sure there is nothing with gluten in the Liquid Chicken (some brands do have gluten but some don’t)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Your favorite type of noodle (I use elbow macaroni in the pics below, just to be traditional.  But you can use whatever kind you’d like)
  2. About a cup of heavy cream (where I shop, this is called 35% cream)
  3. A bit of chicken stock (I use what I call “Liquid Chicken” – bouillon base already stirred up in a chickeny concentrate.  You mix it with water to make chicken broth, but when I’m making this cream sauce, I just pour the Liquid Chicken right into the cream as is)
  4. A bunch of cheese (cheddar, colby, mozzarella, or monterey jack would work.  Or a mix of any of these.  For the pics below, I used cheddar)
  5. Any veggies you want (optional, and you don’t want too many.  This meal is about the MAC.  And the CHEESE.)
  6. A serving size of ground beef
  7. Some taco season, or tex-mex spice

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Put the ground beef in a pan on medium or medium low heat.  Stir it around to break it up.  Stir it every few minutes, breaking up the chunks as best you can.

    Mmmm... raw ground beef!

    Mmmm… raw ground beef!

  2. Put the pasta water on to get it boiling.
  3. When the ground beef is about half-cooked, add as much of the taco seasoning or tex-mex spice as you like.  I use a lot because I like it a lot!

    Mmmm!  Taco seasoning!

    Mmmm! Taco seasoning!

  4. Follow the directions on the pasta package to cook the pasta.  Remember to always stir the pasta about ten seconds after you put it in, to break it all up and make sure it doesn’t stick together.  Then stir it frequently the whole time it cooks, so that it doesn’t stick together and it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  A good chef’s tip:  If you’re going to be adding your pasta to a hot sauce, stop cooking the pasta about a minute before it’s actually done.   Then when you add it to your hot sauce, it will finish cooking and will absorb more of your delicious sauce.
  5. Once the meat is done cooking, take it off the heat and put it aside.
  6. Once the pasta is in the boiling water, get another non-stick pan and put it on the heat, not quite as high as medium heat.  I don’t measure stuff so I can’t tell you how much cream.  It really depends on if you like your pasta to be really saucy or a little lighter on the sauce.  Eyeball it, and then keep the cream out in case you realize later that you didn’t make enough.  You can always add more cream later.

    Cream!

    Cream!

  7. Stir some Liquid Chicken (or chicken stock, if you don’t have Liquid Chicken) into the cream sauce and whisk it around.  Add cracked black pepper if you want too!

    Mmmm... Liquid Chicken in cream!

    Mmmm… Liquid Chicken in cream!

  8. Now you can add any veggies if you’d like.  I recommend going easy on the veggies, because the star of this dish is by far the cheesy sauce, so you don’t want to outshine it.  But I always put thinly sliced onions and a small handful of chopped pickled jalapeno peppers in my sauce.

    Ohhhh yeeeeeah

    Ohhhh yeeeeeah

  9. Stir and stir and stir.
  10. When the pasta is all cooked, strain it and leave it in the sink.  Don’t rinse the pasta, just stir it to avoid it sticking.  Rinsing the pasta takes all the goodness away!
  11. When your pasta is draining in the sink, add your cheese to the sauce.  You don’t want to add the cheese until pretty much the last minute.  Cheese is heavy and it will burn quickly.  It doesn’t take long to melt so you can add it to the sauce right at the end.  Your sauce will probably seem a little thin, but it will thicken as it cools.  Also, some of it will absorb into the pasta. So don’t add enough cheese that your sauce is super-thick or your final meal will actually be dry.
    Mmmm!  Cheese!

    Mmmm! Cheese!

    Stir it up

    Stir it up

  12. Once your sauce is consistent and up to your desired level of cheesiness, stir in the pasta.  I always stir in a bit of pasta at a time.  The worst thing you can do is to add too much pasta and not have enough sauce to cover it.
  13. I like my pasta really saucy so I don’t add as much pasta as other people might.  Whatever.  It’s not a contest, you know.

    Oh man.

    Oh man.

  14. Now you want to stir in that beef you cooked earlier and stir it all up!

    Stirring up the beefy goodness

    Stirring up the beefy goodness

  15. Transfer your delicious meal into your favorite bowl.  For a cool look, add a few unsliced pickled jalapenos on top.  And if you really like, add some freshly-cracked black pepper too.

    Fiesty Fiesta Mac 'n Cheese!

    Fiesty Fiesta Mac ‘n Cheese!

  16. I always wait about five minutes before eating my Fiesty Fiesta Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese.  Trust me on this one, the flavor is just a million times better after five minutes of waiting.  The cream sauce has time to thicken and the flavors have time to blend.  It is a thing of glory, my friend.
Extreme Delicious Close-Up!!!!

Extreme Delicious Close-Up!!!!

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Being single isn’t easy… or cheap. But it doesn’t mean you have to starve!

Being single isn’t easy… or cheap. But it doesn’t mean you have to starve!.

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Being Single Isn’t Easy… Or Cheap. But it doesn’t mean you have to starve!

Being Single Isn’t Easy… Or Cheap. But it doesn’t mean you have to starve!.

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Captain Jack

You are the pilot of a jumbo jet, just realizing the plane may crash.  What will you tell the crew and the passengers?

Okay, okay, what do I do…. Did that, did that… did that.  I don’t know.  I don’t know!  Is this it?  Is this for real?  I don’t know.

I should ask Jim.  Dammit, though, he’ll panic.  Look at him, he’s already panicked and he doesn’t even know anything’s wrong.

Ah, shit.  I can’t leave this without doing something about it.  I could kill all these people.  I should tell them.  I should tell them all that they’re about to die.

Oh God, how can I do that?  What do I say?

Maybe I don’t need to tell them.  Why tell them?  They’ll panic, all of them, and spend their last few minutes of life freaking out.  That’s not what they want.  They’d rather die suddenly and never have to go through that terror.

How can I say that?  How do I know that?  Oh God, I don’t know.

You’re supposed to spend the last few minutes of your life thinking back on your loved ones and how much you love them.  But who really does that?  I bet nobody.

No, people get all mad at life, don’t they?  Why do I have to die?  Why doesn’t anyone care that I’m dying?  This isn’t fair!  Or they get scared.  What’s going to happen next?  Does dying hurt?  Am I just gonna be gone?

Oh man, it’s so sad.  People spend their whole lives getting rich experiences and having love and laughter, and they spend their last minutes with nothing but selfish thoughts.  Maybe I should tell them all they’re gonna die just to spite them.  Go ahead, ruin your whole life with your stupid selfishness in those last minutes.

But they shouldn’t do that.  I should grab the intercom and tell them all to call the love of their live and tell them they love them.  Call your children, call your pets.  Call everyone you ever met and thank them for being a part of your life.

But they’d think I was crazy.  There goes Jack again, that lunatic, they’d say.  And then maybe they’d all realize that they’re gonna die and they’d all panic anyways.  Maybe Jack isn’t so crazy after all, is he?

Shit, I gotta do something here.  I gotta say something.  Dammit, though, what!?  What do I say? How do you tell somebody that their life is over?  What if there’s children back there?  Or a mother who’s kids are back at home?  Or a father who is just getting back from war and hasn’t seen his wife and kids in years?  How do I tell him that he’s gonna die on this plane?

I can’t do it.

But they have a right to know.

But do they?  They’ll just waste that time panicking and cursing me and cursing the fact that their life had to end this way.

Oh, why can’t people be more grateful?  Why can’t people appreciate what they had instead of always being mad?  Why do people always look at the wrong things?

Look at me, I’m doing it myself.  I’ve spent the last three minutes thinking about how shitty people are about death.  I’m no better.  I’m judging them instead of thinking of Shelley.  Oh God, Shelley.  I love you, baby.  I love you so much.  I gotta call her.

What’s that green light?  What – what.  Oh my God.  They fixed it.  The tower guys fixed it.  We’re gonna live.

Holy shit.

We’re gonna live.

And those guys back there had no idea that they almost died.

*****

The pilot suddenly picked up the intercom radio, much to the surprise of his co-pilot Jim.

“Attention everyone,” said Jack with a rather serious tone, “We’re about thirty minutes from landing.  I’d just like to take this moment to… to remind you all that, well, whoever’s waiting for you at the airport, to give them a big hug when you see them.  After all, they love you.  They came all the way to pick you up.  Why not show them you love them back?”

He hung up the intercom and felt his face turn beet red.  It wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted to say, but it was all he could think of.  He could feel Jim staring at him with a shocked face and he didn’t dare look at him.  He had never been a good public speaker.  His hand had picked up that intercom and pushed the button before his mind had told him what to say.  But it was and there was nothing he could do about it.  Maybe though, by some miracle, one of those passengers understood what he was trying to say.

Jim, sitting beside him, sat there thinking about what a good pilot Jack was.  Except that his fly was open.

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The Subway

Watch a group of people do exactly the same thing – board a subway car and look for a seat, for example.  Describe each individual in a sentence or two, using a different verb in each sentence.

                Author’s note:  I’m doing the subway thing without observing it first.

                The doors open at a busy stop in Lower Manhattan.

                A small girl gingerly steps on board, keeping a firm grip on her fathers’ hand.  She tentatively looks around, trying to spot the nicest person to sit beside on a train full of strangers.  Her saucer-wide eyes suggest she doesn’t find the person she’s looking for.

                A teenager carelessly strolls through the open subway doors without looking up from his smartphone.  He senses an empty seat nearby and glides into it like figure skater doing their best move, paying no attention to the people on either side.  His head never raises from his gaze at his phone.

                An elderly woman struggles her way onto the subway, her cane shaking under the weight of her worried hand.  She peers through the crowd to find a seat that she can easily get into, hoping that someone will have the generosity to give her their seat nearby.  A young man does, and she passes him a greatful smile as she carefully lowers herself into the blue seat.

                A woman carrying a baby lugs herself on board and desperately looks for a seat, glad she’ll be able to sit down for a few minutes before getting off at another busy stop.  Her whole body is sweating under her winter jacket and the weight of the baby, but she knows she has no choice but to carry on.  She plops into a seat and exhales like she had been holding her breath for years.

                A business woman prances onto the train with her sensible shoes and her brown leather briefcase.  She quickly takes position in the middle of the train, leaving the seats to the elderly and the less considerate.  Her gaze seems to fall on nothing, clearly showing her mind has not yet left the bustle of Wall Street.

                Lastly, a man who has seen nothing but dark streets and garbage lately creeps onto the bus, hiding his face from the crowd.  He knows what they’re thinking and he does in fact care, but he has to work his way up from the streets and taking that subway from Lower Manhattan up to the Bronx is the only way to get to that job his brother set up for him.  He keeps his hands covered by his long sleeves to hide their dirt and their shame.

                I sit there, watching all of this, listening to the Beatles, which provide the soundtrack to my life and everything that happens in it.

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Lil’ Waffles

My stuffed dog, Lil’ Waffles, has been watching me ever since I got him for Valentine’s Day 4 years ago.

I never knew that he was even alive.  But he was.

He’s been in my bedroom the whole time, so he’s seen everything.  He knows my routines.  He knows that on some mornings, I go through about seven shirts before I find one that I think doesn’t make me look fat.  He knows that sometimes I pose in front of my mirror, wishing that I was pretty/fit enough to be a model.  He knows that sometimes I just sit here and cry.  He knows what I say when I think nobody’s listening – when I’m mad or upset.  He knows what I really think.  He knows that sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and eat potato chips. 

He also knows that when I buy a Christmas present for someone, I put it on my desk and look at it for a few minutes, imagining how much the person I’m giving it to is going to like it.  He knows that sometimes I get very touched by a text that I get from my boyfriend, to the point that I get tears in my eyes.  He knows that sometimes I just lie on my bed, no television or anything, and just think about stuff.  He knows that sometimes I sit here and plan nice meals that I can make for my mom.

He also knows that when I really think about myself, I tend to look at the stuff in that first big paragraph instead of the stuff in the second big paragraph.  And he doesn’t think that’s right.

One day, somehow, he got the power to be able to talk.  And all he wanted to do was say this to me:

“You are a good person.  You do things when nobody’s watching that you would never do in front of other people, but everybody has things like that.  You don’t always look fat when you think you do.  And you shouldn’t care.  Because you care about how happy your Christmas presents make people.  You get emotional and tear up when people say things that make you really happy.  You spend time planning things to do to make someone else’s life better.  When you think about yourself, think about the good things.  Nobody else knows you do them, so you’re the only one who can recognize your efforts.  So recognize them.  Because you are amazing.”

Then he went back to never saying a word to me again.

Now I want you to look at your stuffed animals.  Would they say the same kind of things to you?

I think they would.

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Call Before You Dig!

(Author’s Note:  I work in the Damage Prevention Industry.  We protect underground infrastructure from being damaged when people dig.  Sounds cool, right?  Well, it can actually save lives.  If you hit a gas pipe without knowing it, you can cause an explosion that can lead to fatalities.  In fact, maybe you’ve heard some of the stories.  It happens.  So I wrote this story to help inform people on the importance of it.  I wrote it a few years ago and just came across it while cleaning out some files on my laptop.)

Call Before You Dig!!

       “Good morning new Ants,” President Crawley, the President of the Ant Hill, said to his bright-eyed young students.  “It’s nice to see so many happy new faces.  But as you all know, you have a lot to learn about your life as an ant.  First of all, you need to know what we eat.  We ants eat anything we can find.  The sweeter it tastes, the more we like it.  Second, you need to know what your job will be in the Ant Hill.  Some of you will be soldiers, some will be carpenters, and some of you will be food-hunters.  You will all go to special classes later to learn about your jobs.”

                The new little ants all shouted with excitement.

                “Now let’s get to the important part – digging.  As ants, you will all have to dig.  Ants are the best tunnel-diggers in the whole world.  We’ve been digging for millions of years.  We dig everywhere we go.  But we have to be careful when we dig.”

                “Why?” asked curious little Susie Ant. 

                “Because,” answered President Crawley, “we share the underground with all sorts of other things.  Lots of different creatures have underground tunnels.  Before we make our tunnels, we have to make sure we’re not going to dig through any other tunnels first.”

                “But how do we do that?” asked cute young Susie.

                “It’s very easy.  You just call before you dig.”

                “Call before you dig!” murmured the baby ants.

                “Let me explain,” President Crawley said.  “Say you want to build a tunnel from your kitchen to your best friend’s house.  You know where you want to make your tunnel, so with your phone you call 1-800-ANTS-DIG and they’ll tell you if that path is clear.”

                “What if the path isn’t clear? What happens?” asked another curious ant named Robbie Miner.

                President Crawley explained, “If you dig without knowing where you’re digging, you can cause a lot of damage.  You could run into an earthworm hole and ruin his home.  Or worse, you could hit something that a human put in.”

                “Like what?” asked little Robbie.

                “Like a gas line.  You see, humans put all sorts of pipes and tubes underground.  These pipes help move things like gas,  electricity, and even water  from one place to another.  If we dig through those pipes, they won’t work anymore.  We could cause a gas leak or a water flood.  This could put all of us ants, and even the humans, in great danger.”

                “I don’t want to get hurt!” cried Francine Fireant.

                “Nobody does,” said President Crawley.  “That’s why we call before we dig.”

                “And I don’t want to ruin an earthworm’s home!” piped in little Susie Ant.

                “Call before you dig!” said President Crawley.

                “But what about the humans?  Do they have to call before they dig?  I don’t want them to dig through our tunnels!” asked little Chrissy Carpenter.

                “Absolutely.  They have to call too.  Every time they dig into the ground.  Of course, humans don’t live underground like we do, but they do all sorts of digging.  They build swimming pools, roads, new houses, gardens, and all sorts of other things.  All of these things make them have to dig underground.  And if they don’t call first, they could damage something .  They use very powerful machines that could cut through a gas line in less than one second.  Then there could be a huge explosion.  The humans, and all the ants in the area, could be very seriously hurt or even killed.”

                The little ants gasped.   

                “Don’t worry, you won’t be digging tunnels yet.  You’re too young.”  The President smiled kindly.  “But your parents dig.  They dig every day.  So please, when you go home tonight, remind your parents that they need to call before they dig.  It’s very important.”

                “We promise,” said the ants happily.

                “And,”  the President said, “if every human child promises to tell their parents to call before they dig, our world would be a safer place .”

                Do you promise?

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