It seems the men in my life, despite (because of?) being hearty eaters are a bit particular about what constitutes dinner. Sample cases:
Soup - Doesn't count as dinner unless it has a filling side. This has evolved into a game of culinary chicken. Will I break first and make something to go with the soup? Or will I stay strong and force Ryan to forage and make himself something to go with the soup?
Salad - Ah, salad. It's like gambling. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. With Ryan the odds are in my favor. Salad will count. With my father, it's betting a longshot. You might get lucky, but chances are you're just wasting your time.
Macaroni and cheese has always been a side dish in these parts. Without meat or its own side dish, I just couldn't get it to pass for dinner. Luckily my mom has years of experience trying to get meals past my father. With just a few tasty additions, mac and cheese can appear in the starring role.
FANCY MAC AND CHEESE
1 1/2 oz bacon (this was about 2-3 strips)
8 oz sliced baby bella or button mushrooms
1 C frozen peas
1/2 lb elbow macaroni
1 T flour
3 T butter
1/2 C milk (whole milk is best, but any will do)
1 T mustard (I use whatever I can grab first)
1 1/2 C grated cheddar cheese
Set a pot of water to boil for the macaroni. Chop the bacon into smallish bacon bits - maybe 1/4" squares? Eyeball it, do not measure with a ruler or anything picky like that. Cook in a fry pan over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until it is crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside. Retain some of the fat in the pan (pour off some if it looks like a ton). Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and cook for 5-7 minutes until golden and tender. I often add a splash of balsamic. It's up to you. Then add the peas and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
When the water boils:
When it reaches a rolling boil, toss in the pasta and cook until done 8-10 minutes. Drain, and set the pasta aside in the colander. In the pan you made the pasta in, melt the butter and add the flour. Mix well and cook on very low heat for about four minutes. Turn off the heat and add the milk and the mustard. Whisk to blend. Return to heat. I always add back the cheese and cooked macaroni alternately, stirring to combine in between each addition. Then add the mushrooms, peas and bacon. Fancy.