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Mac attack: Keep the chemicals out of comfort food

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Sterilize board after cutting up chicken? Check.

Triple wash salad greens? Check.

Cook burger until no red remains? Check.

Remove phthalates from packaged mac and cheese?

Whoa!

Just when you thought you had done everything possible to make your family’s food safe to eat, a new study has released a bombshell. It seems packaged macaroni and cheese contains a chemical that has been proven harmful, especially for young children and pregnant women.

Phthalates are not present in the foods themselves but rather migrate there via the manufacturing and packaging process. The study, paid for by independent environmental advocacy groups, stated that phthalates were found in high concentrations in the highly processed cheese in boxed products. Different brands were studied, and whether the product was organic or not made no difference.

Phthalates have been linked to genital birth defects in infant males and behavioral problems in older children. They were banned 10 years ago from teething rings and other children’s toys.

Before you toss all of your Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese in the garbage, I will point out that the study was not published in a peer reviewed scientific journal, nor did it state how many boxes of mac and cheese you have to consume before there are harmful effects.

Though convenient, boxed mac and cheese has never made me a fan. It just doesn’t taste good. The bright orange color doesn’t add to its appeal.

If you want to make your own, here is a simple recipe that will appeal to the whole family. If you use high quality, freshly grated cheddar cheese, it will turn a basic dish into a rich melt-in-your-mouth favorite.

Though the dish is usually made with elbow macaroni, my family prefers ziti. Experiment with different pasta shapes and flavor additions.

Macaroni and Cheese

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

21/2 cups milk

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

2 cups elbow macaroni or other pasta

1/2 cup buttered panko bread crumbs

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low flame.

Blend in the flour, salt and mustard.

Add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce begins to thicken.

Add 11/2 cups cheese and cook until melted.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta as directed; drain.

Combine the sauce and macaroni in a 2-quart casserole; top with the remaining cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.