They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and so that was how my mac-n-cheese experiments began. Seven years ago, I met a boy who would later become my husband. He was a Vegan Yogi working as a television cameraman. He was disciplined about his particularly spartan diet, that was, until he met me and my wooden spatula. I admit, at first when we started dating for about 3 months, I played coy, refusing to cook for him and letting him try to woo me with his non-gluten, non-dairy buckwheat pastas, agar agar laced puddings, and anemic desserts. Then, I learned the truth about his Veganism. It wasn’t due to some high and mighty, religious or critter loving vocation that steered his culinary choice towards the palid and austere, it was simply because when he was seventeen, newly plucked from the suburbs of Baltimore, lacking experience and funds, he “naturally” fell into the vegetable scene. Not eating meat also meant not buying any and not having to cook it because he didn’t know how to cook. So there he was, my tabula rasa. I soon learned that my boyfriend not only love all things dairy and chocolate (the kind with real butter fat) but he LOVED any and all even-number-legged animals without discrimination.
Over the years, as much as he shared my enthusiasm and passion for exploring world cuisines, his true food love–stemming from his childhood, one that was redolent of pierogies, kielbasa, beef chili and egg noodle–was the quintessential mac-n-cheese. And so, over the course of the years together (six of which as a married couple), I have tested and re-tested and labored over this one simple made-from-scratch recipe of baked mac-n-cheese: adding kielbasa one year, swapping in various cheese combinations and settling on the “orangey-est” sharp cheddar cheese I could find, adding breadcrumbs, then tomatoes, and now, seven years into this marriage of ingredients, I have crowned it with spinach, a nod to my husband’s vegetal days. I hope you enjoy eating this labor of love as much as I have fun in making it. Good Appetite!