Monday, January 21, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese

I'm still here, I've just been a little distracted. I had relatives visiting for three weeks over the holidays, work has been a little crazy, and I've started a new academic program that requires self-discipline. Unfortunately food experimentation is probably not going to get me extra marks.

It's very cold today in Saint John. With the wind chill, it's -33C. That really is winter weather and I shouldn't complain. Actually, I'm not complaining. I love cold weather food, and I love an excuse to eat it. I don't fish, work on a farm, or do other hard labour for which this food was developed. I feel that cold weather is my only excuse left to rationalizing eating like this. Another good reason to stay in Canada, as far as I'm concerned.

I've been trying out macaroni and cheese recipes for a few years now. I wouldn't eat it at all for most of childhood. General hunger overtook me in my university residence days. Long before the age of kitchen suites were de rigeur, we used hot pots and kettles to make instant oatmeal, hot chocolate and Kraft Dinner. Eventually I gave in and tried KD- and loved it. I became an accomplished thief of creamers from the meal hall to add that extra creaminess water just couldn't accomplish by itself. I bought, sold, and traded in the KD black market that existed through Bennett Hall. It seems like the guys down the hall were always the ones left vulnerable without edibles, late at night.

Now, my life is fortunate enough that I have refrigeration every day, in which I can keep butter, milk and real cheese. Such luxury!

I would say that I'm still searching for the very best macaroni and cheese recipe, but I can see now that a good kitchen will have several variations for different purposes. This one, adapted from Amanda Hesser, who adapted it from her grandmother, Helen Getz, has entered our regular rotation. We change something each time to see how it works, or to accommodate our own pantry stocks.

In the version pictured above, it felt like a lunch macaroni cheese. We substituted regular cut macaroni with medium egg noodles which made the dish feel lighter than with regular noodles. I also used homemade herbed croutons for the bread crumbs on top. For the cheese, I used half white cheddar, and half Monterey Jack, but the cheese is one of the best parts to experiment with. Here's the basic recipe.

Macaroni Cheese
Adapted from Amanda Hesser

2 Tbsp butter, plus more for buttering the dish
2 Tbsp flour
2 C milk
1 1/2 C grated cheese, plus more for sprinkling
3 1/2 C macaroni, cooked
1 can of herbed plum tomatoes (juice reserved)
3/4 C coarse breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 350C.
2. Butter an 8x8 baking pan.
3. In a saucepan, heat the 2 Tbsp butter until foamy. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until golden. Slowly add the milk, continuing to whisk.
4. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and let thicken.
5. Stir in cheese and remove from heat.
6. Fold in macaroni.
7. Add tomatoes, squeezing them with your hand to break them up.
8. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.
9. Pour into prepared pan.
10. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Sprinkle a little more cheese over the top (about 1/3 C), if desired, to create a latticed affect.
11. Bake unitl browned on top, and bubbling, about 25 minutes.


Zeb said...

nice long post, i couldnt read it all.
is it just me or is the point of focus a little off? its on the fork but it should be on the closest plate of food.

Inkslinger said...

I love mac and cheese variations. I loved my mum's version (just a big mess of elbow noodles and mozarella and cheddar cheeses), but have been wanting to experiment a little on my own. This is inspiring.