Second lunch became a constant meal in my life growing up. It all started when I was around eight or nine years old and continued on through out high school. It was my version of a security blanket and my opportunity to try to create new dishes. The process of my second lunch was always like clockwork and I could set my watch to it. I would leave for school in the morning with five dollars from my dad for lunch that day. I would then spend two of those five dollars on a bottle of diet soda and a bag of chips. This became my lunch for six years. And yes, I pocketed the three dollars everyday. By around 2 o’clock, I would start dreaming of my second lunch. A grumble in my stomach would dictate the flavors that I was fantasizing about. I’d spend the next couple of hours trying to remember what was in the house for me to cook; pork bones, chicken broth, noodles, shrimp, scallions. I was sure I was able to create something out of these dishes. I’d then go home and cook it, eat it, clean up the evidence, and be ready to have dinner with the family by 6:00 pm.
It was a fun process, and always full of challenges. I remember this one time I had a huge craving for cheese sauce. Primarily the Kraft Mac and Cheese sauce. Unfortunately, my parents had gone to Costco (then Price Club) without me and I couldn’t stock up on my arsenal of industrial size instant pastas and mayonnaise. I decided that I would attempt to make my own bright orange sauce. I had managed to score a pack of American Singles from a trip to our local grocery store. (I’m starting to realize that it sounds like I had to fight and connive in order to get food from my parents, but I want you all to know they where loving and amazing parents that didn’t withhold food from me. I promise.) So I figured I would cook a pack of Chinese noodles and then make the cheese sauce.
First step, I get some water boiling and then I cook the noodles. I watch the noodles swirl around in the water with excitement and anticipation. After a few minutes, with a pair of wooden chopsticks, I grab a strand of noodle out and taste. Yum, the Chinese version of “al dente”. Next comes the fun part, I drain the water, put in the milk and butter and tear up two individually wrapped squares. I start stirring with a determined look on my face because I needed to melt that cheese like my life depended on it. I ended up with a sore arm and a big knot of noodles with pieces of processed cheese sticking out. The milky sheen on the noodles did not make it look appetizing at all. Well, neither did the unmelted raw cheese.
So after dumping the noodles in the trash, I employed another strategy. What if I pre-melt the cheese first? So, while the water boils, I put the cheese in a microwave safe bowl [I learned that the metal rimmed porcelain bowls that my mom loved does not belong in the microwave the hard way] and put it on for one minute on high and walked away to watch power rangers. This was the standard time and power that I set all my food for when I was eight, primarily because I didn’t understand the machine. The noodles are ready shortly after an intense fight between the yellow ranger and the putty patrol, and I go check on the cheese. I was now holding in my hand a science project. Somehow I had discovered the concept of mutation and created a fusion of food and bowl. There was an attempt by me to try to clean the bowl with lots of scrubbing and soaking but I decided that it was better to put the whole thing out of its misery. I then gave up on the whole dish and made chicken noodle soup.
I’m happy to say, I now know how to make cheese sauce. I also know how to add things to make it good. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I don’t have the science degree to recreate the wonderfully orange sauce in my home kitchen. I am ok with that. In this recipe I used king oyster mushrooms, I like the texture…but you can use any type of mushrooms you want.
1 cup sliced king oyster mushrooms
¼ cup milk
¼ cup half and half
1 tsp butter
¼ cup shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
1 tbs flour
¼ cup chives, minced
fresh grated nutmeg
2 cups of grated cheese (I used parmasean and asiago)
sautee butter, garlic, and shallots until lightly brown
add the mushroom and thyme and cook until mushroom is cooked down, 2-3 minutes
sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir until the flour is fully cooked through and golden in color
pour in the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a low simmer
lower the heat and add the cheese, a few grates of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste
before serving, add pasta water to thin out the sauce and mix with cooked pasta