Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese for Adults

Let us all bow our heads in thanks to Kraft Foods for packaging macaroni and cheese in a form we don't have to turn the oven on to make. My kids love it, anyway. My youngest thrives on the stuff. That and ramen noodles. It's cheap, and a lot of people will eat it.

Except my wife. I'm not a real fan, either. I don't hate it like my wife does, but I can't stand to eat it like it is. The sauce is usually runny and, although it's made with cheese by-products (what the heck is a cheese by-product?), tastes like its was only placed next to real cheese in the hopes that it might get an idea of what it should taste like. It didn't work, but hey, they tried.

I've always got to add something to it, too. Cut up hot dogs, creole seasoning, and catsup come to mind. Everything crappy tasting gets covered up by catsup and hot sauce, doesn't it?

As much as my kids love the packaged stuff, and the off-brands are too expensive, I'm all about good flavor. I want a macaroni and cheese dish an adult can enjoy. Something I can enjoy without trying to drown out the taste with cayenne pepper and castup. Something that actually tastes like it has cheese in it instead of cheese byproducts.

This recipe for macaroni and cheese does exactly that. As much as I like Noodles and Company as a fast food chain, I like this mac and cheese much better than theirs. Or the stuff at the supermarket deli. Sorry guys. I'm eating at home, tonight.

Fresh bread crumbs work best. Don't bother with over-priced, days old crap from the grocery store. Pulse 3 slices of bread in your food processor until they turn into course crumbs. It will take you all of 2 minutes and it's much tastier.

If you can, use whole milk. 2%, or skim milk, won't be creamy enough. If you're going to go all out with real cheese, it makes no sense to skimp on the milk.

Equipment Needed
Small saucepan or microwave safe bowl
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Large pot or Dutch oven
9” x 13” baking dish
Rubber spatula

8 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 Tbl salt
1 lb elbow macaroni, or other small curvy pasta
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pounds colby-jack cheese, shredded (about 4 cups)
8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar Cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp water
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
6 Tbl all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth.
salt and pepper, to taste
cooking spray

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.

While you're waiting, combine the mustard and water in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Melt 2 Tbl of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat (or use the microwave, about 30 seconds). Toss with the breadcrumbs and set aside.

Once the water is boiling, add 1 Tbl salt and the macaroni. Cook until mostly tender, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, making sure the top rack is in the middle position.

Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, and leave it to fully drain while you continue.

Wipe the pot dry and return to the stove. Over medium heat, add the rest of the butter to the pot to melt it. Stir in the garlic, mustard mixture, and cayenne pepper. Cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the flour and cook until golden, about 1 minute.

Add the milk and broth slowly, whisking it into the flour mixture until smooth. Bring it to a simmer, reducing the heat to medium-low sow it doesn't boil. Cook until slightly thickened, whisking it often to avoid burning; about 5 or 6 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the colby-jack and cheddar cheese until it's completely melted into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the cooked macaroni, breaking up any clumped bits, until well combined.

Spray a 9” x 13” baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the macaroni mixture into the dish and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack until golden brown and bubbling; about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

You can easily customize this recipe. Play around with the kinds of cheese you use, just be careful with hard cheeses like extra-sharp cheddar. By themselves, they could make the dish really greasy. I used a combination of extra-sharp cheddar and a colby-jack blend because that's what I had on hand, but straight colby cheese with the cheddar would have stronger flavor. Get creative! Try gorgonzola or blue cheese cut with queso fresco, if want to. Add cooked and chopped bacon or cooked hamburger. Add chili powder with the cayenne and garlic. Brown the butter and add Andouie sausage. Why not? If you come up with something interesting, I'd love to hear about it in the comments, below.