Friday, February 20, 2009

Comfort Food: Macaroni and Cheese

Ultimate comfort food? The winner is........macaroni and cheese. So creamy, salty, slightly sweet, inexpensive and yummy. Anyone who makes macaroni and cheese from a box (other than a starving college student) should be ashamed. It isn't hard to make. It is inexpensive. And the best part is that you can customize your recipe to suit your mood. Got leftover ham? Extra broccoli? Half of a red pepper? Odds and ends of cheese? All can go into a great Mac and Cheese casserole

Here is a simple version. The extra touches that I like to add at the end. Hint.....smoked Gouda cheese.

Basic cooking techniques used: making a roux, chopping, boiling water

Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

1/4 cup butter
2 Tbs flour
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt

8 oz cheddar cheese cut into dice sized cubes (see below for cheese substitutions)
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs chopped parsley

First: heat the oven to 350. Cook the macaroni according to package directions slightly under cooking the pasta. If you cook the pasta all the way done it will be mushy in the final casserole. Al dente is your friend here. Pour the pasta into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and also to keep it from becoming a big stuck together glob of pasta.

Now the roux and basic cream sauce Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in 3 quart saucepan until sizzling, stir in flour. Cook the flour butter mixture over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth and bubbly ( I minute) Add milk and salt. Continue cooking stirring frequently until the sauce is thickened about 3 to 4 minutes. Drink a glass of wine and stir will be standing there for several minutes, might as well make good use of your time. You don't want the sauce to burn on the bottom and you do want the flour to be completly cooked. Take your time. Who knows....maybe another glass of wine?

When the cream sauce is done, stir in the chopped cheese(s) until completely melted and smooth.

Next, stir in cooked and cooled macaroni (and any additions suggested below). Spoon the entire glop into an ungreased 2 quart casserole.

(At this point, you can refrigerate the casserole for a bit if you are preparing for company or just want to get a jump on dinner. )

Toss the bread crumbs, with 1 tbsp butter and the parsley. Sprinkle this over the casserole.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until heated through and golden brown crispy on top

This is the basic recipe and makes a creamy and satisfying mac and cheese.

Oh....and a green salad and wine goes well. Fruit salad for dessert.

Now let's ratchet it up a bit.

Instead of just plain old Cheddar, substitute one third of a good high fat Smoked Gouda Cheese. (Come on ....are we counting calories here??? It's comfort food people!) If you don't have Gouda add some cream cheese and liquid smoke.

If you have old/stale french bread make some crumbs with that in a food processor instead of using that pasty pre-packaged crumb stuff that comes in a can. (Sorry Contidina). Panko crumbs work really well too, for a really crunchy topping.


Chop up some red peppers and sautee them in butter along with some green onions and add to the mac and cheese glop.


Have some broccoli?...chop it up and sautee with butter (can't have enough butter and fat in your comfort food you know) Left over ham? Absolutely! Throw it in with the broccoli.

Use your imagination. Use your leftovers.

What would I NOT put in this casserole? Mushrooms. They have too much water. Peas...yuck. Serve those on the side as a fresh vegetable.