Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cozy like your robe and slippers...

Sometimes, in the midst of a tough first week back to school, when you had little to no vacation time over the summer, when you're still trying to convert from a nocturnal to a diurnal schedule again, and when your team loses the pub trivia game for the second week in a row (by one measly point! AAARRRGGGGHHH!), you need consolation. It's time for the ultimate in comfort foods.

So when my finicky oven decided to play nice last night and actually stay on and at temperature for over an hour (whoo-hoo!), I quickly whipped up a giant meatloaf (the beloved Bloody Mary Meatloaf from a previous post) to throw in there, and also a batch of homemade macaroni and cheese. Come to think of it, the Food Network may also have subliminally influenced me as Ina was making mini meatloaves yesterday, and Bobby Flay was eating a scrumptious-looking mac-n-cheese at a restaurant recently as well. Meanwhile, that horrible Sandra Lee was marching to her own frightening beat as she is wont to do by putting chocolate on or in everything, including grilled steaks and rice--ewww! You can't just throw chocolate chips into instant rice and call it mole! Someone please help her! And make her stop saying "tablescape!" It's dumb.

Anyhoo....back to my favorite mac and cheese. It is not fancy at all. In fact, the base recipe comes from an old, much-loved, red-and-white-checkered copy of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. You know the one. Your mom had it. Maybe you stole it from her as I did. ;-) Here's my favorite version of that classic recipe:

Macaroni and Three Cheeses

1 lb. pasta (traditionally elbows, but you can use rigatoni or penne or what have you)

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (or 1 cup milk, 1 cup half-n-half to make it really indulgent!)
1 cup sharp cheddar, grated
8 oz. product that rhymes with "Belbeeta" ;-)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste, and yes, you can use black--you'll just have flecks in your casserole)
dash of cayenne pepper or a shot or two of hot sauce

1 1/2 cups Japanese panko (yes, you can use regular bread crumbs, but it won't be as good!)
6 tablespoons butter, melted (you can get away with as litte as 4 tablespoons if it makes you feel better)

1/2 cup grated parmesan (that's freshly-grated, not that vomitus from the green can!)

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook pasta until just al dente (you don't want it fully tender as it still has to bake in the oven later). Drain and set aside until the sauce is ready.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter (I actually like to bring it to a golden color for more flavor). Add the flour and whisk to blend thoroughly. Cook the roux for a minute or two (to get rid of the raw flour taste), then gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to ensure a smooth resulting sauce. When all the milk is added, cook the mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Lower the heat to a simmer, and add the grated cheddar, whisking until smooth and fully melted. Then add the American cheese, again whisking until smooth and completely melted. (Now don't freak out and call me a poseur gourmande! This is the one and only time that I will ever ask you to use the space-age polymer known as Velveeta. It just melts so beautifully and gives your casserole that certain school cafeteria quality that you know you secretly covet! tee hee) Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and a little cayenne or hot sauce (a little nutmeg is also a nice touch if you'd rather that than the spicier condiments).

Combine the cheese sauce and pasta, stirring well to combine (but gently! don't bust up your noodles!). Pour the mixture into a greased casserole and even out the top with a spatula. In a small bowl, combine the panko, melted butter and grated parmesan, then sprinkle it over the top of the macaroni and cheese in an even layer. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about a half hour, or until the topping is G B & D. It just doesn't get any better--or more soul-soothing--than this!

1 comment:

Randi said...

Love the belbetta reference!!