Helping friends in need

Our little town, just north of New York City, was humbled by Sandy.  I can’t say we were devastated, despite the fact that most people here lost power, because devastated should be a term reserved for places like Breezy Point, Queens, where 50 homes were destroyed, or Seaside Heights, NJ, where you can see the boardwalk rides floating out to sea.  Devastated is New York University hospital who lost power and then had generator failure and was forced to move people out of the hospital, patients in need of critical care.

No, in our neighborhood we did lose power and tree limbs flew all over the place, but everyone I know nearby is safe and sound.  Somehow, my house was spared once again (we were also lucky during Irene) and I have power.  The kids’ school is canceled for the third day in a row, we just found out, so our neighbors are literally going stir crazy-no heat, no lights and no showers.

What’s the least I can do to help?  Feed them.  And that’s exactly what I did all day today.  I thought what could be a warm and comforting food that can still be eaten at room temperature if not gobbled up the minute I drop it off?  Mac and cheese. I made a pretty classic mac with a mix of sharp and melty cheeses-cheddar, pecorino, etc, and added a sprinkle of nutmeg and pepper and a few handfuls of peas for my one neighbor.  As soon as I posted this picture to Facebook, I got requests by the dozen:

So then I got creative and gave people choices-Pesto mac or Mushrooms and Bacon?  I was able to try all different combos, but building off the same basic beginnings-

First you have to choose a mac and cheese friendly pasta, preferable a short one with ridges or curves.  a fusilli is good, a rigatoni, but you can also use a ziti or the classic elbows, depending on what is going in to the mac.  If it is just a silky, creamy cheese sauce, like the classic mac and cheese, you can use any small pasta.  Once you start adding mix-ins, like meats or chopped veggies, try to pick a pasta that will pair well, size wise with the additions. Cook the pasta al dente, not all the way.

Next you make a basic roux-heat some butter in a pan and sprinkle a few teaspoons of flour and whisk it together, toasting the mixture slightly.  You then add whole milk and a little broth and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and no lumps are left.  Once smooth and thick, add various kinds of grated cheese.

If you are adding something like peas or mushrooms and onions, cook them separately and at this point, add the mix-ins and the cooked pasta to the cheese and fold together until thoroughly combined.  Season with pepper.

Neighbors were grateful for any hot food or even just the gesture of a visit.  Another good idea is a quick bread-ie banana breads, ginger pumpkin breads etc.  Here are some great recipe suggestions that travel well:

Mac and Cheese recipes

Banana Bread recipes

Pumpkin and Squash Bread recipes


Rosemary Maggiore is our Last Minute Lady. A single mom of two kids plus a full time job (she runs this website!) keep her busy and usually pushing things to the last minute. Somehow she manages to keep her cool and her sanity while she enjoys good food, wine, friends and most importantly, family.

For more Ro, see:

Mom Talk

Follow me on Twitter at @lastminutelady

What's Fresh from @RachaelRay

Rachael Ray