Monday, October 13, 2008

Making Mac & Cheese

I've been at home all day working on household projects and it's time for dinner. To be honest, my plan was to make chicken legs stuffed with chorizo, almonds and cilantro but time has creeped up on me and there just isn't enough time to prepare the chorizo or the chicken.

Instead, I've decided to go for a simple supper of coulette steak with Macaroni and Cheese. The cupboards are empty of Kraft Mac N Cheese so I've got to make it from scratch.

Truth be told, making mac and cheese is relatively simple. Just some pasta and cheese really.

I'm gonna share with you tonight's recipe but keep in mind that everything is about ratios. I don't know the measurements. I just did everything by sight. By feel. In other words, I used The Force.

Here's a list of ingredients that you're going to need:

- pasta
- cheese
- milk
- flour
- bacon
- salt
- pepper
- olive oil
- butter

Start off by boiling pasta in salted water until cooked al dente. I've got a package of orecchiette pasta lying around so that's what I used.

This dish is all about what's lying around the house. For the cheese I've got some Gruyere and Idiazabal in the fridge. What I'm looking for is something slightly hard but creamy. Think Gruyere. Even cheddar will do. Add some parmesan. Even Oaxaqueno will do. Shred the cheese and put it aside. Save a portion of the Gruyere to use as a topping later.

I prefer whole milk but all we have at the house is skim -and I hate skim milk. Luckily, I've got some heavy whipping cream too. I just mixed the two together to emulate whole milk and started heating it in a pan. Once heated, keep the milk at a low simmer to keep warm.

In a separate pan, I've cut up some bacon into little pieces and started to brown them. By now the pasta should be done, drain in a colander and coat with olive oil. Don't forget to preheat your oven to 400F.

From here things start to take off.

In a separate pan, melt the butter then slowly whisk in flour, creating a roux. Once the roux is mixed thoroughly, slowly whisk in the warm milk. After that has combined, allow the heat to thicken the mixture slightly then add the shredded cheeses and whisk together until the cheese has melted into the mixture. Add the bacon and season with salt and pepper.

In an oven proof bowl or casserole, pour the pasta and then the melted cheese mixture and combine thoroughly. Smoothen out and flatten the mix in the casserole and bake in the oven for ten minutes.

After ten minutes, the mixture should be bubbling nicely. Top the mix with the remaining Gruyere cheese (don't be shy with the cheese) and bake for an additional ten minutes - or until the cheese has browned and turned crispy. You can also use the broiler to achieve the desired texture.

When it comes out of the oven, the mac and cheese is going to be piping hot. Set it down for about ten minutes to cool. Believe me, even after ten minutes it's going to be hot. Use that time to finish and rest your steak.

Once cooled, it's time to chow.

As I said, I don't have measurements. You're going to have to rely on your own experience and instincts to guide you. The roux is key. It brings great texture to the dish and I think it's a must. Also, be sure to cook your pasta correctly. There's nothing satisfying about a crunchy pasta mac and cheese. Even if you don't have that much experience cooking, don't fear. This dish is really quite easy.

Oh, and what exactly is this "roux"? It's not just something that Emeril talks about on tv. Just take the butter (maybe half a stick), melt it and then slowly whisk in a quarter cup of all purpose flour. Once that has turned into a brown-ish slurry, it's time to add the milk. Add one cup of heated milk and whisk it in. From here, you'll have to use your judgement about the thickness but don't be afraid to add a little more milk if it seems too think. Then add the cheese - that's the best part.

From there, you're on your way.

Also, don't be afraid to add stuff to your mix. Lobster, shrimp, chicken, parsley, whatever. Explore, then eat.