Friday, September 12, 2014

White Macaroni and Cheese

Your goal is to eat it all!
So comfort foods are a fantastic thing and mac 'n cheese is king among them. Seriously pasta is comfort food, cheese is comfort food, and mac 'n cheese is pretty much just large quantities of both. How can you go wrong? Plus the wifey loves it and she was not feeling well the other day. Hence you get a blog entry.

While I like the Kraft boxed stuff, you can do much better. So a while back I went on a mission to find the perfect mac 'n cheese recipe. I think I got pretty close. I started with a Rachel Ray recipe and tweaked it to my taste. The crunchy topping was a bit I am quite proud of. I also added the word white to the title to make it sound racist.
 
Resources:
2 chicken breasts (~1.5 lbs)1 pound elbow macaroni1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups 2% milk (or whole)
0.8 lbs (or 3 cups shredded) white cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Salt
2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon parsley

Method:
Cook chicken and finely dice.

Cook pasta al dente (ie still a little firm). Drain.

Heat a medium, deep skillet (or a pot) over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter melts into the oil, add flour and combine. Gently cook, whisking flour and butter together, until smooth and flour has had a chance to cook, about 1-2 minutes. Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk. Gently bring milk to a bubble while stirring frequently. Allow the milk to thicken a bit, then stir in 2 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese a handful at a time continuing to stir. Season sauce with nutmeg and cayenne. Add salt to taste. Add cooked pasta and chicken to sauce and coat completely by turning over and over in the cheese sauce. Continue mixing until warmed throughout.

Transfer to a baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Press down mixture. Mix the basil, oregano, parsley, and bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top.  Place baking dish under a hot broiler and brown the cheddar cheese on top. Serve right away.


Commentary:

Do NOT use cheap cheese. You do not have to use the most expensive thing you find, but do use the discount brand pre-shredded either. At my grocery there is usually two Vermont white cheddars. One is aged and the price is ridiculous. The other is not aged (or aged less I forget) and is just fine. Seriously we are talking less than a pound, spring for the decent stuff.

I add the milk to the flour / butter usually in four or five parts. Be sure to mix thoroughly each time before adding more. Here is an exciting frame by frame!

Flour & Butter
A little milk

Roughly half the milk
All the milk. Was not that exciting?
You have to love imperial measurements. Three teaspoons is a tablespoon, sixteen tablespoons is a cup. So random. So meaningless. Anyway one thing the wifey brought to the marriage was a half tablespoon measuring spoon. If you do not have one, get one. I love it. It comes helpful especially when halving recipes.

A rare and precious treasure!

Evidence my stove is not level.
I mention pushing down on the mixture. You are going for density here. I usually do it before and after the cheese.


Push it real good.
 
In my head there was no way cayenne and nutmeg were going to make a good flavor combination. Yet it works. Both flavors come through a little. So if you strongly dislike one or the other reduce a little, but do not skip.


Mac 'n cheese's odd couple.




In the first picture you saw the coloration of the crunchy topping I use. Be careful. This goes from no color to burnt under a broiler very quickly. That is the reason I do not suggest preheating the oven. I seriously check it roughly once a minute. Trust me you do not want to serve the wifey burnt crunchy topping when she is already feeling poorly!

Speaking of the topping, that a total shot in the dark that worked. Feel free to mix it up a bit.

Conclusion:
Good for what ails you.

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