Creamy Macaroni & Cheese – NYT

It is highly (highly!) unlikely for me to try a new mac n’ cheese recipe since the one I have been make for eons is just about my idea of perfect. But you know, I decided to try this out of pure curiosity. Curiosity is a little bit of a blessing and sometimes, a little bit of curse too. Odd, isn’t that?D&D_2448

I saw this not long before Thanksgiving, but just could not manage to force it into the menu that I already had – ie: too many dishes and no where near enough time. So I thought let’s give it go in between the big ol’ food holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is never anything wrong with a warm comfort food when the weather gets cold (yes, it is cold – for us anyway – don’t judge). This also does not cook the pasta ahead of time –  a step removed – already a big fan. Now let us see if the whole thing can live up to the hype. Opinions reserved until me and the Boy try it. Proof in the pudding, as it were.

modified by me from the NYT recipe

cooking spray
1 cup small curd cottage cheese (full fat, if you please)
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp dry mustard (Coleman’s)
pinch cayenne
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound extra sharp cheddar, grated (Cabot)
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

2 Tbs unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350 degree and position rack on upper third. Use cooking spray on a 9″ round or square baking pan, or a 9.5 deep dish pyrex dish, like for a pie

In a large bowl, mix together puree cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, and pepper together with an immersion blender. Grate extra sharp cheddar and reserve 1/4 cup grated cheddar for topping. Add to the bowl the remaining cheese, and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan making sure pasta is covered in liquid, cover tightly with heavy duty foil and bake 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir gently, sprinkle with remaining cheddar and dot with remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Source: NYT – need to give credit to the author at the NYT food section [Julia Moskin]. Will be difficult now since everything, mostly, is behind a pay way. Too bad, but there are other resources if you know where to look.

Because I was using a glass Pyrex plate, I lowered the temperature to 350 degrees. I think I will decide what to do once the first 30 minutes goes by and I get a sense of how things are going.

Must admit it did not look so pretty going into pie plate, but even ugly ducklings can turn into swans. Didn’t take a picture out of embarrassment for the mac n cheese, not me.

After the first 30 minutes, the pasta was still more tough than I would like, so 15 more minutes in the foil. That said, the flavor was spot on. I could taste the Coleman’s mustard and the cayenne came in at the end. Not much in the nutmeg department even though I only ever use freshly grated nutmeg (so simple and so worth it).D&D_1473_iPhone

When I opened the dish after 45 minutes you could really smell the nutmeg, and that was great, but perhaps a bit more next time. I stirred again and then added the mixed white & orange Cabot seriously sharp cheddar to the top, turned the pan half way around and baked for 30 more minutes. Just divine. Sampled while not making a total mess of the top of the dish. Needs more black pepper to serve, but that is the case, in my opinion, every mac n cheese – I blame appreciate my mom for that even though we only had that pre-ground stuff you get at the store. It still made a significant difference.

Do you get the giggles when a recipe just totally exceeds expectations? I sometimes do and I did tonight. Part of that might be beer but the rest was just “oh, holy cat, this is amazing.”

Right now, I am writing while the mac and cheese cools. I want to have that for breakfast but will wait for a day until the MotH can take some great pictures.

Guess someone didn’t want to wait, ah well. Can quite blame the Boy for that. D&D_2439

Butter usage – by month – April 2016

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars – yep

2 April –  8 Tbs – Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars (for Heather)

9 April – 8 Tbs – Salted Crispy Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies

11 April – 2 Tbs – Everyday Orzo (once again amazing!)

13 April – 8 Tbs – Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

16 April – 12 Tbs – Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze – don’t do this

17 April – 7 Tbs – Italian Cream Cake

21 April – 8 Tbs – Lemon Ricotta Cookies – don’t do that either, do this

28 April – 12 Tbs – Brown Sugar White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

30 April – 5 Tbs – Mac and Cheese My Mom’s recipe, as such which I will say again – just do it. Really. Not kidding.

30 April – 8 Tbs – Brown Sugar Pecan Scones

78 Tbs = 9.75 sticks = 39 ozs = 2.4375 pounds

Not great, but not a ringing endorsement either. And from what I can gather my May does not start out any better. Crap.

 

Mac n Cheese – the best ever

This is another no recipe thing – but in the tradition of Michael Ruhlman – it is a ratio –
though I am not good at math. There it is. My mom made the best mac n cheese ever. We never had anything out of a Kraft box (ugh — so gross). I do think I picked this up my osmosis (cannot believed I spelled that correctly on the first go – woo hoo!). I really don’t remember paying that much attention to how my mom made it, but I knew how to do this by instinct  – again, in my head it was osmosis.

So this is a total ratio thing, but to me the easiest way to tell someone how to make it is to show them how to make it. It can be a little vague otherwise. This was the subject of one of the early Wednesday Cooking School nights for the Boy. It is one of his favorite things, not surprising, since it also one of my favorite things. It is also vegetarian, which means I had it in the freezer while waiting for him to be born and I remember distinctly that I had some the night I came home from the hospital with him.D&D_1397

I have this lovely ceramic dish from Portugal (I did not go there to get it, but did buy it from a store in Durham, NC) and it is a pretty dish and I bought two because of that. But here is where the ratios come into play. No matter what dish you have, to make mac n cheese for whatever sized dish you have measure out dry pasta* in the dish to about the half way full. Once you cook the pasta, then it will fill the dish — see, a ratio – who knew from math? But I knew that before Ruhlman (still love you guy).

Now here is the next ratio – fat to flour – also knew this before Ruhlman. I always prefer to have more cheese sauce than I need, so for my pan (need to measure and figure out how big that dang this is). I start with 4 Tbs of unsalted butter, which I melt over low heat and then add basically the same amount of all-purpose flour and a bit of salt and pepper. Then cook the flour for a minute or two, stirring the whole time. It  would be a good thing if you had taken your whole milk out prior to starting this and I probably should have said that before now. But as long as you add the milk a little at a time, it will be okay. Some people warm the milk in a sauce pan, but my mom never did, so I don’t either.

Here’s the thing – when you first start adding the milk it will look like a clumpy mess with the butter mixture. You really are making a light roux and then you are going on to make a bechamel sauce sort of. Anyway. Use that whisk to eliminate lumps, but pretty soon you need to switch to a good spatula (Get it Right spatulassee this link, and this one, then there is this one, and .. well you get it.)  because you don’t want the milk to scorch on the bottom of the sauce pan – that would be a disaster (i.e. start over – no other choice, nope none).

So again, this is where it is where it is so much easier to show than explain, but the ratio, is about the same amount of cups of milk as butter – in this case 3 1/2 to four, but add a bit at a time. Let simmer over low heat and let thicken over time.

Then the cheese comes into play. In my case, always extra sharp cheddar, white or yellow, your choice, but once the bechamel thickens it is time to take it off the heat and add the grated cheese, setting aside a bit to put on the top. Add the cooked pasta (you did that already, right? Dumped the pasta you measured in the pan into a nicely salted pot of boiling water and cooked until al dente) to the sauce and tip into the baking dish, top with a little extra shredded cheese and cover with foil. But in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 – 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

You need to let it cool a bit before diving in, but that is a necessary thing.

So to you from me – My Mom’s not-recipe for the best homemade mac n cheese.

*I typically use penne or rotini, but elbow is good too. Some pasta that will hold the cheesy goodness of the sauce.

Wednesday Cooking School

Well the Boy has taking an interest in cooking and so we have started some cooking lessons, especially for the things he loves which are mostly things I don’t have recipes for. They are things that you have to make by doing.  Wish I had learned how to make cornbread dressing this way, but I did not. Sigh. D&D_0329

So we started a couple of weeks ago with his perennial favorite. Home-made sloppy joes. It may sound odd, but this is an excellent non-recipe recipe. I love this way to much to admit. And the cole slaw to go with it, which is a bit of riff on cole slaw with Eastern North Carolina pulled pork barbecue.

So I taught him how to make both because it is just a taste-as-you-go kind of thing. Which is why it really is stupidly-wonderful as long as you get the hang of it

So we’ve had another lesson which I need to make again and post here, but it is my mom’s homemade mac n cheese. The Boy has never had anything out of box, only this. Yes, he’s a bit spoiled, but then again, so was I. It is not difficult if you know what you are looking for – it is a bechamel and then you go from there. Should have taken a picture, but – damn, but that means I will have to do it again soon – such a burden. I’m sure the Boy would not mind having some more homemade mac n cheese.

I have to say, I’m having so much fun doing this. The next project is a serious baking deal, but again – one of his favorite things and it is a new version of a recipe I love from a friend – it is her grandmother’s recipe and I am really looking forward to it. Yep – I am that food nerd. Do not care – spending time with the Boy is great.

Cannot wait to see what happens next.