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The Real Mac Attack

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cunningham's latest book is "Cooking With Children" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

My old friend macaroni and cheese is back on my table. For many years, it was a weekly regular, along with George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Then, in the ‘60s, home cooking entered a glamorous new phase. Cooking classes sprang up all over the country. Magazines and newspapers printed exciting French recipes with names like potage, roulade and brioche. From French food, this exciting food revolution moved on to Nouvelle Cuisine, Italian pastas and Asian stir-fry.

And we are still traveling globally in the kitchen and at the table. But along with these changes, there is a rediscovery of our homey American classics. Macaroni and cheese has passed the test of time and competition, and qualifies as a true food classic.

A good macaroni and cheese must be moist and creamy. It doesn’t need to be baked a long time; in fact, sprinkling cheese on top of the dish before baking makes a rubbery brown topping. Instead, sprinkling dried bread crumbs tossed in melted butter over the top gives a pleasing crunch and taste. The cheese you use should be lively in taste, like sharp Cheddar. And be sure to taste for salt; this dish needs more than usual.

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Although not the ideal dessert with macaroni and cheese (fresh fruit and cookies would be better), the Little Light Chocolate Cakes are delicate and delicious. This recipe makes 12 standard cupcakes or 24 small ones. They get stale quickly, so if you aren’t serving them the day you bake them, freeze them until needed.

LESS THAN 30 MINUTES

MACARONI AND CHEESE

8 cups water

Salt

1 (7-ounce) box elbow macaroni

5 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup sour cream

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2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 1/4 cups dried white bread crumbs, lightly toasted

Use medium-sized macaroni, not large or salad-size. Macaroni gets floppy and limp when overcooked so begin testing for tenderness at 5 minutes. Macaroni and cheese can taste flat, so carefully taste for salt and add until dish tastes finished.

Bring water to boil and add salt to taste. Add macaroni and stir. Some macaroni will stick to bottom of pot, so stir often first 5 minutes of cooking. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes.

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Drain in colander and pour into 2-quart baking dish. Add 3 tablespoons melted butter, sour cream, cheese and salt to taste. Toss mixture until all ingredients are well integrated and cheese has melted. Toss bread crumbs with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle over top of macaroni.

Bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes. Serve hot.

4 servings. Each serving:

689 calories; 748 mg sodium; 110 mg cholesterol; 42 grams fat; 56 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 0.21 gram fiber.

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LITTLE LIGHT CHOCOLATE CAKES

1/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

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1/2 cup boiling water

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

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1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream

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1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine shortening, sugar and cocoa. Add boiling water and beat until smooth.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in another bowl and sift over shortening mixture. Beat until well blended. Add egg, vanilla and sour cream and beat until smooth and creamy.

Spoon batter into greased muffin pan, filling each cup 1/2 to 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few damp crumbs clinging to it, about 15 minutes. (Note: If using small muffin pans, check at 7 minutes.)

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Let cool 2 minutes, then remove from muffin pans to rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar or spread frosting on top.

12 cupcakes. Each cupcake with powdered sugar:

196 calories; 127 mg sodium; 22 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.67 gram fiber.


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