Child’s Play: Grown-up Mac & Cheese
It snowed in Chicago this weekend. I love snow; I don’t really know why. I think growing up in Virginia, snow was rare enough to always be exciting. Despite having had now five real winters in the Midwest, I still get giddy when it snows. I love how it glitters; I love how everyone pretends to be annoyed but can hardly mask their childish joy. Mostly, I love the excuses it gives me to snuggle up in over-sized sweaters and feast on comfort food. So Friday, after a long drive home, I decided to make Mac & Cheese with my boyfriend.
For Hanukkah, my aunt and uncle got me a subscription to Fine Cooking my first addition had an article for how to may “100+ Variations on Mac & Cheese.” It included suggestions for base cheeses (Cheddar, Havarti, Gruyere, Fontina, etc), accent cheeses (bleu cheese, parmigiano-reggiano, feta, etc), fresh herbs, and add-ins. The add-ins were a wide variety of vegetables (carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts, spinach, etc) and proteins (ham, lobster, bacon, pancetta, etc). It also included this thing about bread crumbs which I didn’t do; I don’t have a blender and so making my own seemed like too much hassle considering I don’t care that much. Base cheese was the hardest choice; I liked the idea of getting creative but in the end, nothing beats cheddar! I chose a fancy cheddar, though, the label said it was Welsh Vintage Cheddar. In the end, I went with the following:
Location: Boyfriend’s Kitchen (better lighting!)
Soundtrack: Late 90’s pop + Glee season 1 soundtrack
4 oz Cheddar, cut into tiny cubes because my boyfriend doesn’t have a cheese grater
½ cup Parmigiano-reggiano
2 Tbs Butter
2 Tbs Flour
1 ½ cup Milk
Two small handfuls Brussels sprouts
Three slices of bacon, trimmed of a bit of fat and sliced into strips
Half a carton of cavatappi
Fresh ground black pepper
Bacon: Fry it in the pan; use extra oil to toss sprouts in
Brussels sprouts: Peal off dead or wilted leaves. Trim stems and cut into quarters (this is a good boyfriend task). Toss sprouts in bacon oil and olive oil, liberally salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 450F for about ten minutes, tossing periodically. Keep an eye on them; they’re best with crispy tips but not too black.
Pasta: Cook it in a pot with water. If you’re like my boyfriend, you can read the directions on the side of the box.
Cheese sauce: Melt butter in medium-sized saucepan. Constantly whisking (another good chore for boyfriend), slowly add in flour and then milk. This is the same as a base for a white sauce. Slow but constant mixing and pouring works best, it’ll thicken a little while you’re whisking. Mix in cheese slowly, giving it time to melt in before you add too much. It’s ok if it bubbles a little, it’ll help it thicken, but don’t let it outright boil. And stir!
Mix all ingredients into casserole; top with fresh pepper. Cover and bake in oven for 10-15 minutes at 350F. Serve immediately, preferably with red wine.
Wine: I really love Rex-Goliath wine, it’s my new favorite cheap wine (Less than five bucks a bottle!). I chose “Free Range” red wine for a change from my usual pinot noir, and it was FABULOUS! On a cold night, the perfect accent for my Grown-Up Mac & Cheese!
Assessment: Oh man, was it good! I’m really into Brussels sprouts right now, but they were perfect, an earthy balance to the thick & creamy cheese sauce. The bacon added a nice tang, and there was very little of it, which ended up being the perfect amount; next time though, I’d cook it longer and maybe just mix it in at the end to add more of a crunch. Mac and Cheese, homemade with cheddar, is probably my favorite thing in the world. This way, fleshed out, it felt like a real meal, and was exactly what I needed after a long trip to the grocery store in the snow storm!
Next time: I’m gonna use feta, go for a Middle-Eastern variation. Get excited! Maybe I’ll use spinach, oregano, tomatos……Mmmmmmmm!
Andrea, Boyfriend, & The Clean Plate Club