Friday, October 19, 2012

Mac & Cheese: The Results and Modified Recipe


The final bubbling product
The Process:
Putting four separate kinds of cheese on a shopping list when you aren't having a wine and cheese party is a very exciting thing. It is hard to believe that I was vegan for 2 1/2 years of my life, choosing to live without this beautiful food. That being said, not all cheesy meals are perfect. There are some gross looking recipes for Mac & Cheese floating around in the world. Some (which I will not put a link to) include Cheetos, ketchup, or even mayonnaise! If you are reading and want to attest to the advantages one of these ingredients, please write a comment. I am repulsed and intrigued at the same time.  

This simple recipe used so much cheese that I expected the flavors to be very bold and the sauce to be coating every piece, but I realized after the fact that in my memorization process I somehow doubled the amount of pasta involved, meaning the noodles were covered in only half the sauce that was called for. The upside: we had a LOT of Mac & Cheese.

Another interesting part of this recipe was the egg; I didn't really understand what it was for, but I learned that unless you are making a roux-based sauce to cook and pour over the top of the pasta (stovetop method), eggs are advantageous as a binding agent (not a big surprise-- I just used them for the same purpose in my Quinoa Burgers last week). So mystery solved: stovetop Mac & Cheese is eggless... baked Mac & Cheese recommends egg.

My final note about this recipe is that it can be made ahead of time. Just assemble the dish, then cover it and pop it in the fridge overnight. Bring it to room temperature before you put it in the oven (or just add 15 minutes to the cook time).
Good night, Macaroni

The Verdict:
Disclaimer: This will be a sad story.

Still reading? OK... I warned you. When the Mac & Cheese was served, all five of us around the dinner table looked at it in awe...I do not exaggerate when I say it was a colossal pan of macaroni. It made about 12 large servings, thick and wide, and we anticipated ample leftovers. I dished it up, and after the awkward food photo shoot during which my apartment family waited patiently, I dug in to take my first bite of the not-too-cheesy Mac (see above for an explanation of why-- bad memorizing). I bit in, chewed, chewed, chewed, chewed.......... chewed, chewed, chewed........... no flavor. None. Zero. Not even bland pasta flavor. I could not taste anything. However, I heard my roommate exclaim, "Oh my god!" (which sounded more like "Uhmmm mummm grrrrd!" through his macaroni-filled mouth) and saw everybody reach for seconds. Why me? Why couldn't I feel as indulgent as everyone else?

You see, I have been grumbling my way through a cold for the past week, and with my nose so stuffy, I could not smell anything. Not one to settle for an unsatisfactory meal, I did some tests: I could tell that my salad dressing was acidic, the craisins were sweet, and the Sriracha we had on the table was spicy, but I could not detect the unique flavors of each thing. For all my gustatory senses knew, the dressing was lemon juice, the craisins were raisins, and the Sriracha was jalapeño sauce. And the Mac & Cheese was nothing. I cut open a clove of garlic and held it to my nose. With a huge inhale, I barely detected any garlic at all. Clearly, there was no hope for me tasting the subtle flavors of the Mac & Cheese without a sense of smell, since my olfactory receptors were out to lunch. Tragic.

The verdict, then, comes from the other tasters in the room, who will be identified by the number of portions they ate:

  • "It's a mellow cheese blend with a sharp aftertaste." --Roommate #1, 3 servings
  • "Subtle overall, but then you get bites with the different cheese. That makes it more hearty... makes it a main dish." --Dinner guest/ best friend/ screenwriter, 2 servings
  • "Try it with Sriracha." --Roommate #2/ Sous Chef, 2 servings
  • "I think three servings speaks for itself" (and "Uhmmm mummm grrrrd!") --Roommate #3, 3 servings

If there is a moral to be drawn from this story, it is the following: ALWAYS get dibs on the leftovers.


Serve with a seasonal salad to lighten the meal up a bit
The Recipe: Marja's Mac and Cheese, by Marja Vongerichten, adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
Yield: 8-10 servings
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 lb. elbow macaroni
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 4 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz. cold cream cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
The whole cheese family showed up: Extra Sharp, Sharp, Jack, and Cream Cheese
Preparation:
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the macaroni for 3 minutes. Drain the macaroni and return it to the pot. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss well.
  • Butter a 10-by-15-inch baking dish.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the heavy cream with half-and-half, milk, eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
  • Stir in the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses and the macaroni.
  • Spread the mac and cheese in the prepared baking dish and scatter the cream cheese cubes on top.
  • Bake the macaroni for 5 minutes. Using the back of a large spoon, spread the melted cream cheese cubes evenly over the surface. Bake for 40 minutes until bubbling.
  • Removing the baking dish from the oven and preheat the broiler. Broil the mac and cheese about 3 inches from the heat source until richly browned, about 2 minutes.
  • Let stand for at least 10 and up to 20 minutes before serving.
Grate the cheese directly into the mixing bowl to save a dish-- just measure 4 oz. from the block
Make sure you don't overcook the pasta-- only 3 minutes in the boiling water
Cream cheese adds a smooth component to the sauce without overwhelming the flavor
Broil the top for the nice toasty looking and tasting top
I've said it once and I'll say it again: Get dibs on the leftovers.

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