Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy 100th! Macaroni and Cheese

Well, here it is. Post number 100. I have been thinking long and hard about what I should write about, and I have to say I am a bit nervous. I knew more than a week ago what I wanted to write about, but I vacillated. As I often do. When I write posts for my food blog, I sort of feel like they need to be completely my recipe, or at least that I have changed something. But in reality, there really are not a lot of new recipes. I mean, occasionally someone comes up with something that is really fun, it uses some unique spices and ingredients and it is really fun to make, but is that what you go back to again and again? I find that simple recipes are the ones that I return to. I like those things that I can make with the ingredients on hand, not those that need special ingredients and/or do not seem worth the extra effort.
But, that said, I still enjoy those tantalizing foods that are traditional works of art. Souffles, homemade flour tortillas, cookies, tarts, pies, etc. And macaroni and cheese. I really like real, homemade mac and cheese. Its traditional, its classic, its comfort. It is made with bechamel. It is so easy to make, yet it is so satisfying. It is also very easy to make your own. For this recipe I used aged white cheddar, but you could easily use Gruyere, or yellow cheddar, a mixture of cheeses, whatever you want. Also, bacon, tomatoes, canned chilies, spices, leftover grilled chicken or ground beef turn this into a main course. If you don't have seasoned bread crumbs, used crushed croutons, saltines or ritz crackers.
So, when you are not sure what to make, take some cavatelli or elbow macaroni, make some cheesy sauce and enjoy.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups milk
4 Tablespoons bacon grease or butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 lb grated cheese (sharp cheddar or Gruyere cheese)
1 lb elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs

Makes 6 servings

Preheat the oven to 400. Butter a 9x13 in baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While you are waiting, make the bechamel.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes.  Do not let the milk boil or develop a skin. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the bacon grease or butter. Add the flour and stir well until the mixture is pale and ivory, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle the warm milk in to the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Stir in the salt and pepper. Return the pan to medium heat and cook stirring constantly until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste the sauce and be sure there is no trace of flour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add nutmeg and about 3/4 of the cheese. Stir until melted.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook noodles for 6-8 minutes, until slightly undercooked. Drain and return to the warm pot. Add the cheese sauce and stir to coat. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Bake until bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes.

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