I'm not referring to the maniacal degree of detail with which the Doyenne of Domesticity attacks all her undertakings. I have friends who can reel off the names of everyone who ever played triangle on a Patti LaBelle track. Being obsessive doesn't perturb me.
I side with Yuka and Miho of the band Cibo Matto, who once revealed that they worship Martha's "all about home, and really doing little things" to improve presentation. If La Stewart is willing to devote a sizable chunk of her Christmas dinner prep time to mummifying a turkey in puff pastry, I can only applaud her ambition. It's all I can do to spear Velveeta on frilly toothpicks come the holidays.
Where Martha trips up is when she tries to return to the blue-collar traditions of her roots . . . the same ones she spent years revising for public record. You'll find a prime example in the February Martha Stewart Living: a story titled "Macaroni & Cheese 101." (Although the byline is Sara Neumeier's, in Living Martha's shadow looms large over her puny contributors.)
The piece is straightforward. A little history (the dish dates back to Colonial times), a little nostalgia, and a recipe calling for nutmeg. Nutmeg? That's a spice for pumpkin pie! To worsen matters, the whole thing is swimming in white sauce, which in my experience is a one-way ticket to Macaroni & Cheese Soup, not a rib-sticking casserole.
Why do I have my boxers in such a bunch over this particular article? Because if there's one thing I know as well as music, it's how to bake a macaroni-and-cheese casserole from scratch. I don't tell Martha and her cronies how to tat lace, or sneak endangered orchids across international borders, or fashion old insoles into charming drink coasters. She'd be wise to stay off my turf.
Macaroni and cheese is my signature dish. The surest way to ingratiate one's self into the hearts of a band on tour, weary from endless meals at Taco Bell, is to serve them noodles smothered in velvety melted cheese, crowned with a crispy topping. It never fails. Members of Sky Cries Mary, Marigold, and Actionslacks have swooned in my kitchen. Stanford Prison Experiment loves my macaroni so much the band not only phones in requests before it hits town, but I've even brought some backstage packed in margarine tubs when time was too tight for a sit-down dinner.
So you just pack your knitting back in the basket and scurry along to Nantucket, Miss Martha. If there's macaroni and cheese to be made in these here parts, I'm the only man folks need to see.
EL TORO'S MACARONI & CHEESE
(Serves 6 to 8)
12 oz. uncooked macaroni
6 Tbsp. butter
2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups grated smoked Gouda cheese
11/2 cups milk
1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 10-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
salt & pepper to taste
Progresso seasoned breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
1. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water, until just al dente (still very firm to the teeth); drain but do not rinse. 2. Melt butter in a very large saucepan over medium heat. 3. Add onions and saut頵ntil translucent. 4. Add diced tomatoes and milk; stir gently until heated through. 5. Set aside 1/2 cup of grated cheddar. 6. Add remaining cheese to saucepan. 7. Add cooked pasta, and combine all ingredients thoroughly. 8. Season with salt and pepper. 9. Pour into a 2-liter casserole. 10. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until cheese is well set. 11. Sprinkle on a generous layer of breadcrumbs, then top with remaining 1/2 cup grated cheddar. 12. Broil 1 minute, or until top is brown and toasted.