Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cheddar Mac & Cheese

As I promised on Tuesday, I'm sharing a cheddar mac and cheese recipe, which would make an awesome side dish for Thanksgiving, so I'm filing it in that category. There are hundreds of different recipes for mac & cheese out there, both in cyber space and regular world space, and I'm just adding mine to the pile. I also have a recipe for lobster mac & cheese on my blog if you're feeling fancy but this is just the bare bones version of mac & cheese that I make all the time.
If you're not into cheddar, you can certainly use a different cheese, like american or swiss or gruyere. Whatever you're into is fine by me. You could also use a combination of cheeses, if you like. But, I do suggest you choose a good melting cheese and not, for example, grated parmesan cheese from that green can or orange foam spray cheese. I decided to choose cheddar for this particular batch because that's what I was craving. Plus, I knew the pretty orange color would lend itself nicely to photographs.

Let me also be a little candid here and say that I never measure when I make mac and cheese. In general, I rarely measure when I'm cooking. It's all a 'feelings' thing. However, I did my best to mark down how much of everything I was using as I was cooking so that I could share it here.

Ingredients:
½ box (½ lb) short cut pasta (elbow macaroni is the classic shape and what I chose but you could use shells, cavatelli, cavatappi, penne, gemelli, rotini, rotelle, fiori, ditalini, gomiti, mostaccioli, etc.)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup diced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups grated cheddar cheese (or other good melty cheese of your choice)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Start by making the base of the sauce, a.k.a. the bechamel. Add butter, onions, and garlic to a saucepan and heat it up over low and saute gently until the onions are translucent and soft. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk together until the flour is incorporated into the butter; this is the roux. Obviously, it will look chunky because of the onion and garlic pieces. What you want to look for is that all of the flour has absorbed the butter and there are no raw flour clumps or pockets. You'll want to keep cooking the flour in the butter for a little bit just to make sure all of that raw flour flavor is cooked out. Add in the milk (cold milk is fine) and whisk to combine until a smooth sauce forms. Allow the sauce to come to a boil and thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Let it cook a bit longer, just to give the flour a little more time to absorb more moisture. This is one step that will help prevent a grainy sauce.
Once the bechamel is finished, add in the cheese, a little at a time, letting each addition melt completely before adding more. Adding in too much cheese at once might leave you with a clumpy or grainy sauce. The point is to give each shred of cheese enough hot sauce surrounding it to melt it smoothly.
While the sauce is going, you should have a pot of water boiling and pasta cooking. Cook the pasta in salted water, drain, and return to the hot pot; the heat of the pot will help to steam more moisture off of the noodles. Pour in the cheese sauce and mix everything together.
And that's it! If you want, you can pour this into a 9" x 9" baking pan and throw it in the oven at 350F for 10 to 15 minutes. Baked macaroni and cheese has a bit of a different texture because the edges get a little crisp. Topping it with a garlic breadcrumb also sounds delicious. Just take a few minced cloves of garlic and get them sizzling in some butter. Once the garlic is soft and starting to brown, toss in a handful of panko breadcrumbs and mix gently to get the crumbs coated in the garlicky butter. Cook just long enough to toast the breadcrumbs slightly. Then, sprinkle over the top of your mac and cheese. Or don't.
Serve it while it's nice and hot, otherwise you'll miss the awesome melty gooeyness and be stuck with a congealed, stuck together mess of pasta.

I ate mine with fried chicken and salad and garlic & leek mashed potatoes. A perfect combination: it was like homemade Boston Market/KFC/Popeye's.
Here's the recipe page:

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