Bites and Pieces: Macaroni and Cheese

Comfort food doesn’t get any more comforting than macaroni and cheese. Millions of harried parents crack open a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and have an easy dinner that they know will be gobbled. I once ran into a financial emergency in graduate school. I miscalculated my expenses and ran out of money before I ran out of month. [How quaint. Someone in his mid-20s without a credit card.] I sold a text book and made plans to eat mac & cheese for a week. Not content with boxes, I bought a pound of dry macraoni, a block of Velveeta, and a few additions such as a can of diced green chiles.

Fifteen years later, I was introduced to a better approach. My girlfriend’s room mate used to work at the New England Conservatory of music. There would often been left-over (good) cheese from receptions, which she would use to make the mac and cheese recipe from Best Recipe, a complication of favorites from Cooks Illustrated. Their recipe is adapted from John Thorne’s book Simple Cooking. I’ve been making a slightly tweaked version of it ever since.

Home made macaroni and cheese usually consists of pouring a Mornay sauce (white sauce with cheese) over cooked macaroni, possibly topped with toasted bread crumbs. Good, but not necessarily rich. I like rich. This one is akin to a custard, so it is thickened with eggs, not flour. Here is the base recipe:

Ingredients

2 large eggs

1 can of evaporated milk (or 1 ½ cups of milk)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper (black is fine, though white is nice for color)

¼ teaspoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon dried mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (half an inch or so is fine)

12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

8 ounces of dry macaroni

Method

  1. Bring two quarts of water to a boil, add macroni and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook until not quite done (it finishes cooking later).
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and combine with one cup of milk, salt, pepper, hot sauce and mustard. Shred the cheese.
  3. Pour macaroni into a colander to drain. Return to pot and toss with butter. Turn burn to medium and add the egg & milk mixture and 8 ounces of cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Gradually add the remaining milk and cheese, stirring until the mixture thickens.
  4. Top with bread crumbs if you like. Did I forget to mention the bread crumbs?

The original recipe calls for evaporated milk, which makes a terrific sauce, but one very high in fat. I think whole milk works fine. You could probably use 2%, but I wouldn’t go lower in fat content. When I first used regular milk, my sauce took ages to thicken. I’ve found that I can obtain the right texture by undercooking the macaroni and stirring under medium high heat. You can also get away with dropping down to two or three tablespoons of butter. Don’t go underboard, though. CI later published a low fat version of the recipe, which just goes to prove that some things don’t work.

Variations

I’ve recently started varying the recipe a bit, mainly with the spicing. I was at my brother’s lake house in July and spotted some KC Masterpiece barbeque sauce. I replaced the spices with BBQ sauce to taste, probably about about a quarter cup. It was a hit. Another time, I tried using a teaspoon five spice powder instead of the mustard. It gave the dish a subtle twist.

The Competition

Post your favorite recipe in the comments section or email me and I’ll add it to the main post. Perhaps we can do a mac and cheese cook-off!

BB


Michigoose’s contributions:

Stove-Top Mac-n-Cheese

from Alton Brown

Ingredients

1/2 lb elbow macaroni

4 T butter

2 eggs

6 oz evaporated milk

1/2 t hot sauce (I like to use Cholulu Sauce)

1 t kosher salt

3/4 t dry mustard

10 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I usually use a mixture of cheeses here, much like FB’s girlfriend’s roommate)

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain.  return to the pot and melt in the butter.  Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste and mustard.  Stir into the pasta and add the cheese.  Over low heat continue to stir until creamy, about 3 minutes.

Very, Very Bad for you Baked Macaroni and Cheese

from Giada De Laurentiis

Ingredients

12 oz wide egg noodles

2 cups heavy cream

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 t flour

2 cups grated Fontina cheese (packed)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (packed)

3/4 cup shredded mozarella

4 oz pancetta, diced and cooked crisp

2 T Italian parsley, chopped

Italian bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and butter a 13 x 9″ baking dish and set aside.

Cook the noodles until tender but still firm; drain well.  Whisk the cream, milk, and flour in a large bowl, then stir in half of each of the cheeses, the pancetta and the parsley.  Add the noodles and toss to coat.

Pour the noodle mixture into the prepared baking dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, then dust with bread crumbs.

Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese and crumbs on top begin to brown, about 20 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Michigoose’s Dad’s Macaroni and Cheese Supreme

I never actually got to eat mac and cheese when I was growing up unless it was at somebody else’s house.  My Dad had developed a serious aversion to it after he and my Mom had to eat it for weeks on end when they were first married and still poor college students.  After working on his own recipe for several years he finally developed one he could eat.  And like all my Dad’s recipe’s, it’s very, very involved!

Ingredients

1 cup macaroni, cooked and drained

1 1/2 T butter

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced

1 T flour

3/4 cup skim milk

3/4 cup ham, fully cooked and cubed

1/4 t dry mustard

1 dash ground black pepper

1/4 t salt (he uses table salt, so adjust if you use something else)

1/2 t Worcestershire sauce

1 dash hot sauce (here he undoubtedly means Tabasco)

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 T butter

2 T green pepper, chopped (I think he means a jalapeno here)

Heat oven to 375 degrees; cook macaroni to al dente, drain and set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat and saute onions until light golden in color.  Add the mushrooms and saute another 4 minutes.  Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute.  Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.

Stir the ham, mustard, pepper,salt, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, peas and cheese into the milk mixture and stir until the cheese is melted.

Toss together the sauce and macaroni, then spoon into a buttered baking dish.  Bake covered for 20 minutes.  Uncover, dot the top of the casserole with the remaining 2 T of butter and cover with bread crumbs.  Bake another 10 minutes.

Garnish with the pepper and serve.


19 Responses

  1. Okay here’s mine made with Anaheim chilies.

    Ingredients

    12 oz elbow macaroni cooked and drained
    3 tbs butter
    1 cube Knorr vegetable bouillon
    3 Anaheim chilis
    4 tbs flour
    4 cups milk (I use non-fat)
    4 – 6 cups assorted grated cheeses (cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Havarti etc)
    ½ cup bread crumbs mixed with 2 tbs dried cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Mexican etc)
    Salt & Pepper to taste

    Directions

    Melt butter in large sauce pan and add large chunked chilis (not roasted first). Saute over medium high heat until peppers just begin to brown, add bouillon cube and dissolve and then add flour to make a roux. Slowly add milk and cook until mixture begins to thicken and add half of the grated cheese and salt & pepper. Mix the other half of cheese in with the cooked macaroni, pour milk and cheese mixture over and top with bread crumb mixture. Bake about 30 minutes until nice and bubbly at 350.

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  2. My friend made the best Mac and Cheese with diced tomatoes, bacon bits, and scallions. She would serve it with filet mignon. I’ll try and track down the recipe.

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  3. Speaking of cheese:

    “Psst! Wanna Buy Some Mozzarella? U.S. Cheese Being Smuggled Into Canada
    September 26, 2012
    by Mark Memmott”

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/09/26/161810301/psst-wanna-buy-some-mozzarella-u-s-cheese-being-smuggled-into-canada

    Courtesy of Shrink2 on PL.

    Like

  4. From your post, Paul:

    a complication of favorites from Cooks Illustrated.

    Interesting little Freudian slip, there! 🙂 I’ll add mine when I get home. Thanks for putting this up!

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  5. Heh. That’s an increasing problem for me. I type a block of text and find that I’ve used a similar word. In the post I wrote, I wrote “text” instead of “texture”. I caught that one in proof reading.

    I’ll wait a bit for comments and then update the competitors section.

    Cheers,

    Paul

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  6. I took the liberty of inserting my contributions into your post, although two of them wouldn’t be eligible for competition because they’re from pros. . . but I love them both too much to not share!

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  7. Those all sound really great you guys, thanks. I think I’ll try the really decadent one first, without the pancetta though. I love Fontina. ♥♥♥♥

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  8. I start with a stick of butter, melted in the pan, and half a cup of flour, stirred in. Then I stir in a quart of warm milk. Then I use maybe a cup of grated Romano and 4 cups of grated sharp white cheddar. From there I do what you do, BB – its different each time. Serranos? Worcestershire? English peas? Mushrooms? It’s like the pasta fagiole of sauce. Whatever is around. If I had cooked leftover broccoli, I would shred it into the sauce. Make your own junk food.

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  9. Mark, I have Serranos coming out the wazoo still. They were my best peppers this summer. I’ve been putting them in everything I make for my husband that I can’t eat………………lol

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  10. Lulu–

    Haven’t tried it, but as a thought some shredded smoked turkey might work in that recipe. The hammy-ness adds some depth to it that I think would be missing without some sort of sweet/smokey flavor mixed in.

    I make that recipe once or twice a year and I love it, but I can’t make it more often than that or my doc would kill me! 🙂

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  11. How was your Yom Kippur, Mark?

    Like

    • Quiet, of course. Rosanne and I were ravenously hungry after fasting. We went out to a nearby pub where I had a mushroom Swiss 8 oz fresh ground burger, w/lettuce, tomato and grilled onion, on whole wheat bun with spicy brown mustard, side salad and chef made ranch dressing and a cabernet. Rosanne had 10 lemon pepper buffalo wings and side salad w/ranch. She used extra ranch for dipping her wings.

      We could not have cooked – we would have eaten whatever we were cooking before we cooked it. Then we went to the twins back to school night for parents – Jen had work to do.

      Like

  12. Thanks, everyone. I’m enjoying the posts (and the edit). I’m jealous of imsica as I love serrano peppers. I make my sauce for murgh makhni (also known as murgh makhni) with them, even though they’re too spicy for the recipe.

    My next B&P post is going to be on oatmeal. I’ve just tried doing something new and need to explore it. Fortunately, my boys are on an oatmeal cook, so I’m making it several times a week.

    BB

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  13. Mark, I haven’t tried growing Poblanos yet, my favorite is Anaheim. I plant different varieties every year though and this year the Serannos were the best. We also had Habanero (very hot) which I used in my salsa and a baked corn recipe. I buy the plants and haven’t seen Poblanos out here anywhere. Maybe I’ll try some seeds next year though. It takes a lot longer that way but I’ve done it before. I’ve been buying seeds on Amazon and have planted a much better variety of veggies lately. I even found burdock which I haven’t grown in years.

    This fall I’m all about 4 varieties of greens, 4 lettuce, burdock, peas and bok choi. Stir fry, soup and salad.

    FB, I eat oatmeal almost every morning in the winter so I’ll be interested in that. I haven’t been able to keep it down lately because of medicine I’m taking but hopefully I’ll be able to eat it again by the time the weather cools down here.

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  14. Mark:

    Sounds very nice. May you have been forgiven, and have a blessed year!

    Like

  15. Lulu:

    Burdock????? Like the same stuff that burrs come from?? In MI we call that a weed and pull it out!

    And I’m also looking forward to the oatmeal post. I’m going to try to get better about eating breakfast this year. . . .

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  16. I don’t know about burrs Michi, but it’s a purple root, similar to carrots or turnips but larger. I used to be able to buy them in the natural foods stores years ago but they disappeared. I think they might be popular in Japan but I’m not sure.

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  17. Here you go Michi, from wisegeek. Looks like we’re both right. You can’t let them get too old but the ones we used to buy were longer than carrots, but thin. We’ll see what the variety I’m planting now is like………………I’ll take a picture. They seem to be growing fairly fast.

    Update: I hope I don’t poison myself…………..hahahaha

    Burdock root is the root of the burdock plant, in the genus Arctium. Generally, burdock root is harvested from Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa, although other species of burdock may be used as well. In addition to the young roots, the leaves of some burdock species are also edible, and they may be used in salads and other dishes. Burdock has also traditionally been used medicinally, especially as a purifying agent.

    The burdock plant is in the thistle family, and produces flowers and burrs which strongly resemble thistles as they mature. The plant has green leaves which hug the ground before shooting up tall stalks of leaves and small purple flowers. The flowers develop into burrs which are notorious for sticking to clothing and fur with immense tenacity. This trait has led to the wide distribution of burdock all around the world.

    Although burdock can be found growing in the wild in many nations, it is native to Asia, where burdock root is very popular in the cuisine of many nations. Outside of Asia, burdock root is a less popular food, although it can be found cropping up in recipes now and again. The flavor of young burdock roots is reminiscent of artichokes, leading to their inclusion in quiche, sautes, and similar dishes. Older burdock roots can be very bitter, and their consumption should be avoided.

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