Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Recipe Time #8: Adolescent, Half-Baked Mac 'n Cheese

No longer a child, but not yet an adult

Definitely a theme of self-expression for many tweens and teens, rather it be in the form of ballady pop songs, emo poems or expository blog entries. In my case, it also defines my cooking style.

Nevermind that I am no longer a teen. (Thank heavens.)

In the case of mac 'n cheese, the child in me would have jumped for making the stuff out of the cardboard box. Mix the orange-yellow-ish powder with hot milk, boil the macaroni in water and voila! -- something that looks and tastes like mac 'n cheese. Kind of. But hey, at least it doesn't involve getting my hands smelly with herbs and I don't have to grate my own cheese, let alone having to deal with a
roux.

My adult side wants something more sophisticated: a little more complexity in flavors (i.e. something other than "
American Cheese") and hell of a lot less artificial chemicals. I am also ever-so-slightly wiser; cheese sauce components should not have a shelf life measured in years. And I would like to make a more versatile, multidimensional entreé too, adding fresh, signature touches to the dish--perk it up with some spices, throw in some meats, or--if I become an evil parent--sneak a few vegetables in. All that customization options reminds me of Color Me Mine, but with art I can eat (pretty or not) and without getting all those semi-pitiful "aren't you precious for spending your time and money to paint a glazed pottery?" looks.

Often, in food and in life, my adult and child strikes a compromise - and so I present the my Adolescent, Half-Baked Mac 'n Cheese.
Ingredients (approx. 8-12 servings):
1 pound of dried pasta, preferably a shape that easily picks up heavy sauce (I chose rotini)
1 1/2 pound of cheese, shredded (I bought mine pre-shredded - a mixture of sharp & mild cheddar, mozzarella and colby jack)
8 strips bacon
8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned, quartered or sliced
3 tablespoons butter (almost half a stick)
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups milk (reduced fat or whole)
1 teaspoon garlic powder (you can also finely mince 3 fresh cloves)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tsp. white truffle oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta as instructed on package (to al dente), let it drain and cool.
2. Cut bacon into bite-sized pieces, set aside about a quarter of them and sauté the rest with mushrooms over medium-high heat. After cooking, mix with 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, toss with the pasta and set them in baking dishes (I used two 9-inch silicone pie/cake pans, if you want a more substantial crust on bottom or side, use metal or glass bakeware).
3. Heat the milk in saucepan over medium-low heat, making sure it doesn't go above simmering. Meanwhile, start preparing the roux on a double boiler (or an improvised one like me, with a pyrex glass bowl over a large pot of boiling water)--throw the butter in and let it melt, then slowly whisk in the flour until it is smooth. Afterwards, gradually mix in the heated milk.
4. Set aside 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the shredded cheese, gradually add the rest to the milk mixture and keep stirring/whisking until smooth. Add the remaining garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Taste-test and season as needed. Preheat oven to 400 F.
5. Ladle generous amounts of cheese sauce over the pasta/bacon/mushroom and toss until they are well covered with sauce. Top with remaining shredded cheese & uncooked bacon.
6. Pop it in the oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes.
7. Top the baked mac 'n cheese with white truffle oil (or any infused oil of your choice) and serve it up!

Any leftover cheese sauce is also great for dunking with bread . . .

6 comments:

Doug said...

i love the idea of a half baked mac n' cheese - never thought it would work but this looks awesome - the melty cheesy part is always the best.

Chubbypanda said...

Mmmm... A thinly veiled excuse to practically free-base cheese. I love it.

H. C. said...

Doug - Actually a lot of LA restaurants are serving up baked mac 'n cheese, part of my inspiration to make my own version. Now... if you're talking about fried mac 'n cheese balls, that may be a bit out there for me.

CP - You got that right! Noticed how I had more cheese than pasta in the recipe? I wonder if I should call this cheese 'n mac instead. ;)

The Water Cooler said...

Wow, that looks ridiculously tempting. I love that you topped it with white truffle oil. Mmm...

pinknest said...

oh god this looks so good! look at all that cheese sauce!

OCStandard said...

This mac and cheese photo has made me hungry. There is something about carbs and cheese that is so tempting.

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