Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mac n' cheese, take two

A while back, I made a decadent macaroni and cheese recipe. It turned out really yummy, but I'm always looking out for new versions to try. I want a mac n' cheese that has cheese flavor, richness, and a creamy sauce.

Last night, I tried a new recipe. This one is included in the Cook's Country Best Grilling Recipes cookbook. Steve won a free copy of this book for guessing how much money is in America's Test Kitchen's annual recipe testing budget. Christopher Kimball himself wrote Steve to say he won and sent the signed note with the prize. He got second place and only missed first place by a couple thousand dollars. (The first place prize was free lifetime subscription to Cook's Illustrated.)

The cookbook is pretty good. It has color photographs of almost every recipe, and in addition to grilling techniques, tips, tools, and meats, it has a good amount of side dish recipes.

I changed the recipe just a little bit - I added bacon. Yeah, I didn't really need to but I had four lonely little slices in the fridge just begging to be used. This dish certainly didn't need the bacon, but it did add another flavor.

This recipe also differed from others I've tried as there was no cream. Butter yes, four kinds of cheese yes, but no cream. It did however call for three cans of evaporated milk. I used the 2% variety and I don't think it harmed the overall richness and creaminess at all. Actually, I wonder if it would be so rich it would be almost inedible if full fat evaporated milk was used . . .

The sauce turned out thick and coated everything. The cheeses blended and melted in a gooey yummy mess. And I could actually taste the cheese. Sometimes, I think mac & cheese recipes sacrifice cheesy flavor for creaminess. This recipe was creamy and cheesy. So good. Next time I'll also try using at least one low fat cheese to combat the fat in the other cheeses. In any form, mac and cheese is a once-in-a-while dish, not a weekly or even monthly dish.

I just had some leftovers for lunch - Steve and I will probably be eating this for lunch until Sunday - and even reheated it was just as good as it was last night.

Here's the recipe. This makes enough to feed 8-10 people, or lunch for two for a week.

Potluck Macaroni and Cheese

From Cook's Country Best Grilling Recipes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into large pieces
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded American cheese (buy a 5 oz. block from the deli counter)
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4-5 slices of bacon (my addition)

1. Adjust an over rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Pulse the bread, melted butter, and Parmesan in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 6 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. (or just leave it in the processor like I did so I didn't have to dirty another bowl.)

2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the macaroni and cook until almost tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain well.

3. If using bacon - in the same large pot used to cook the pasta, cook the bacon. Remove bacon when crispy to paper towels to cool. Crumble when cool.

4. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons (or 2-3 if you used the rendered bacon fat) butter in the pot. Add the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until light brown, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk, hot sauce, mustard, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.

5. Off the heat, whisk in the reserved pasta cooking water and cheeses (and bacon if using) until melted. Stir in the macaroni and transfer to a 13x9-inch baking dish. Top evenly with the bread-crumb mixture and bake until the cheese is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and serve.

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