Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reader Requested Recipes - Part III

Probably - no, not probably, for sure - Baked Macaroni and Cheese would be on my Desert Island Food list.  Life without it would be impossible.  That's true reallly any time of the year, but in the colder months, nothing replaces it!  

This is a way of making Mac 'n Cheese that I love to employ when my cheese drawer is chock full of still good, but oft eaten, pieces of cheese - and always, always, I have some good Canadian Cheddar in the house.  A good cheddar is something that must be part of your "keep stocked" efforts.  I have been especially strict about this since we gave up "american cheese" - you know, the processed stuff. I have loved american cheese with a serious love all of my life, but for me, I decided it was time to part ways. I recovered from a long time love of Velveeta too, but that was some time ago and a story for another day.

I also employ a technique with this recipe that I have named a "reverse roux" to make mac 'n cheese.  Don't look it up. I made the name up!  I like it though.  What do you think? Over the years, I have spent a good deal of time learning to make good roux.  A roux is indispensible for a jambalaya, a bechamel, and a host of other things.  That said, sometimes when time is short and you just want to get the macaroni casserole into the oven - this technique works really well, is easy, and takes less time.

Recipe (But really just technique):  Bits and Pieces Baked Macaroni and Cheeses


A regular sized box of whatever pasta you like to make macaroni and cheese with - for this most recent batch I used leftover dry pasta from the pantry - half of a box of Farfalle and half of a box of Penne.  See - it really is, "bits and pieces"!

Next, get into the cheese drawer in your 'fridge - or wherever you store your cheese - and start to decide what is not going to make the cheese board again, but is still perfect or nearly perfect.  Last time around I used Comte', Smoked Gouda, some previously grated Parmesan, and of course, Cheddar.

After you select all of your cheese, grate everything on the wide grate on your hand grater - You don't want it too fine. The amount/volume of cheeses you use is really up to you.    I like mac 'n cheese to be ridiculously cheesy.  For the batch pictured here, I had about three cups of grated cheeses. If you have parmesan that you grated for last night's pasta, you don't have to grate that, of course!  Mix all of the cheeses together and set the bowl aside.

Next, cook your pasta.  Knock about 1 minute or two off of the box instructions so that your baked pasta has some al dente quality to it after almost an hour in the oven. Remember to add a good handful of salt to your water.

Drain the pasta into a big strainer and put your pot back on the stove.  One pot, one bowl, one casserole dish for this one - that's enough!

Now - put a stick of butter (yes, a stick, it's mac 'n cheese, after all) into your pot, turn it on medium and melt the butter completely but don't let it brown.  When it is completely melted, add two cups of whole milk.  If you want, and it's in the 'fridge, and you are feeling you need more richness, you can use one cup of milk and one cup of half and half.  If I have half and half, I almost always feel that I "need more richness".  Honesty - my policy.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk the butter and the milk together and keep it on a low heat as it slowly gets hot.  Don't rush it.

While the mixture is warming, rub the inside of your casserole with softened butter.  If you want some extra kick you can also rub the casserole with a half of a garlic clove.  Depending on my mood, I either love a little garlic in my mac 'n cheese or I find it interferring with my experience. It's up to you.

Get your bowl of mixed, grated cheeses and stir in a good half cup or more of regular flour onto the grated cheeses. You want to see the flour.  Add a teaspoon of kosher salt and a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.  I like my mac 'n cheese peppery always, so add less if you are not a fan. Stir.

Pour the cooked pasta into the buttered casserole dish and set it aside.

Pour the grated cheeses and flour mixture into the warm milk and butter.  Set the heat to medium, and stay right at the pot, whisking at least every minute or more.  You will see that the mixture will start thickening up relatively quickly.  It will be thick enough in five minutes if not sooner. Much faster than a roux.

Pour the thickened mixture over the pasta in the casserole and stir it a bit so that it is evenly distributed.

Put the casserole into the 375 degree oven, covered with foil, for 40 - 45 minutes.

You want to see the mixture bubbling when you take the foil off.  So, if you check it and it's not bubbling, place the foil back on and put it back in the over for another five minutes or so.

When the consistency is where you want it, take the casserole out, turn on your broiler, make sure that you have a rack about 6 inches from the broiler and put the casserole under the broiler.  Do not leave it.  You have to keep your eye on it.  When it is as browned on top as you want, remove it.

Let the casserole sit for about 15 minutes prior to service.  It needs to "set up" and it is going to be molten lava hot anyway.

I think that you will find that your "bits and pieces' mac 'n cheese has a wonderful and different flavor - It has to! It has a different cheese mixture almost every time.  I mean what could be better?  Consistency and novelty all wrapped up in gooey deliciousness.


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