Friday, June 11, 2010

AMAZEBALLS Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I am hands down one of the most die-hard macaroni and cheese people you will ever know. My obsession with this dish go way back and I am completely unashamed of the lengths I will go to in finding a good plate of tender pasta smothered with cheesey goodness. For as long as I can remember I have been conducting an ongoing hunt for a down-home, face meltingly delicious mac n' cheese recipe. This is actually a rather challenging task because being a complete and utter devotee of the cheese and pasta movement, just about anything remotely nearing the category of macaroni and cheese immediately strikes my fancy.

So I decided to put some parameters around it. The first was texture. I really enjoy a creamy, smooth, luxurious cheese sauce with my macaroni. At the same time, I need my pasta to stand up to the sauce, keep a little bite to it. I was also looking for something that had a bit of a spice kick, while sticking pretty close to the basics. Don’t get me wrong, fancy cheeses like fontina and gorgonzola rock, but for this particular exercise I needed a go-to recipe that could make me feel like home is sitting in a bowl of creamy, cheesey heaven. 

And so it was that my endurance in pasta and cheese eating paid off when I stumbled upon Cooking for Engineers. This recipe is completely and utterly fantabulous! What can you say about a dish that is so creamy it’s even creamy straight out of the frige! No reheating required! It’s not even in the universe of figure friendly but I have to say, I don’t give a hoot. This is the real deal. Of course I have made my own little adjustments but the combination of cheeses is superb. The engineers included "American cheese (for stability - American cheese has stabilizing ingredients), Monterey Jack cheese (for creaminess), and sharp cheddar (for flavor). (A fourth cheese is actually used - Parmesan - to flavor the bread crumb topping!)" Coupled with evaporated milk as a base, MAJOR winner folks. Serious creamy factor.

So do please, please make this recipe. It will change your life. OK so maybe it won’t change your life, but it will make you smile for days I promise.

AMAZEBALLS Baked Macaroni and Cheese
(Adapted from Cooking for Engineers)

1 lb. (450 g) elbow macaroni or shells (whole wheat pasta works well but use what you like)
5 Tbs. (45 g) all-purpose flour
4 Tbs. melted butter (or bacon grease, see note)
3 12-oz. cans (1 L) evaporated milk
6 oz. American cheese
10 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese (plus a wee bit more for topping, optional)
4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese (plus a wee bit more for topping, optional)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground mustard seed
2 tsp. table salt (plus more to taste)
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp white pepper
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
a splash of beer (whatever you have on hand will be just fine, i use about 1/4 cup or more depending on my mood)
crumbled bacon (optional but highly recommended...maple bacon is best)

1 c plain store bought bread crumbs (you could also make fresh ones by cuisinarting 2 or 3 slices of day old bread but i use panko)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Crumbled bacon (optional)
Additional grated cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Bring four quarts of water to a hard boil. Dissolve at least 3 Tbs. salt into the water and add the macaroni. Cook until al dente (about 2-3 minutes less then package instructions say to cook. It will cook a bit more in the oven). I generally start checking the macaroni a minute or two early to make sure I don't over cook it. Once it's ready, ladle out 2/3 cup water to be reserved for the cheese sauce later just in case you need it. Immediately drain the macaroni and rinse it thoroughly in cold water to stop the cooking. This is one of the few times I advocate using a colander and rinsing pasta with cold water (in most cases, pasta used in casseroles benefits from this procedure). It makes all the difference in the world.

While the water is coming to a boil, shred the American, Monterey Jack, and cheddar cheeses. I found this was done fastest by using the grating disc on my food processor. Otherwise, build arm muscles and shred on your good old grater.

Prepare a roux by heating (over medium heat) 4 tbsp butter until it foams. Then whisk in the 5 tbsp of flour and cook while stirring until light brown (about 1-2 minutes). (NOTE I will sometimes sub in bacon grease I have saved from brunch for the butter...makes a fun difference).
Slowly beer and evaporated milk while whisking and then continue to add evaporated milk until all the evaporated milk has been added to the pot and no clumps of roux remain. Stir in the hot sauce and worcestershire. Using a sifter to avoid clumps of seasoning, sift in the freshly grated nutmeg, ground mustard, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, white pepper, cayenne and paprika. Stir to combine well.

Cook the mixture for about 4-8 more minutes on medium heat. The mixture (a b├ęchamel sauce) should have thickened up. You know it is done when it coats the back of a spoon and you can run your finger down the back leaving a trail.
 Move the pot off the heat source and stir in the grated cheeses and, if needed, some of the reserved pasta cooking water (only if mixture gets too thick and usually i just add beer instead of cooking water). Keep stirring until the cheese completely melts into the b├ęchamel. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Frequently I'll throw in a handful of good parmesan here as well.
Stir in the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon so that the sauce completely coats all the pasta. (At this point I have a very hard time of not eating the whole pot. I have to admit, there are abundant 'quality control' taste tests that go on while making this dish.)
Pour the macaroni and cheese into a lightly buttered 9x13-in. baking pan. Combine the breads crumbs, melted butter and parmesan cheese (and bacon if using). Lightly cover the top of the macaroni and cheese with the bread crumb mixture. (Sometimes I'll add extra shredded cheese on top too...just to make sure there is enough cheese and stuff.)
Bake for 15-25 minutes (when the edges begin to bubble). Remove from the oven and let the casserole sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into it to serve.

Note: You could also stir in crumbled bacon into the actual mac if you are feeling extra decadent. Add some peas if you like as well.

1 comment:

  1. Jen - I've seen all these postings on facebook and always thought the recipes sounded awesome but I assumed it was just a random blog that you liked and would try recipes from. TJ and I have started house hunting and I've been thinking about cooking more and I thought I'd check out the blog that you always use...then I realized it is YOUR blog!!! That's so awesome and amazing. I am definitely going to start trying your recipes;) Thanks for sharing!