Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Grown-Up Mac n Cheese

So here it is...the mac n cheese we've all been anticipating! Okay well maybe it was just me. After not even making an attempt the other night, I decided I would definitely make it yesterday. And my schedule in the lab worked out pretty perfectly. Class was canceled, so after a long coffee "break," I setup the one experiment I needed to do, and then spent a good hour looking through mac n cheese recipes. I bought white cheddar the other night, so I definitely wanted to use that. I also wanted to try to use onions and broccoli. After comparing some of the recipes, I came up with a good cheese to pasta ratio, and made up my own recipe.

I think I'm surprised by quite how delicious this was! (And I got someone else to try it, so it really is good!) There were a lot of small steps, but all in all it wasn't very difficult. I might try to add some more cheese the next time I make it. Either that, or include stronger cheese. I used the same amount of gruyere and cheddar, so it might need more cheddar. Also, this isn't even that bad for you. The whole grain pasta and broccoli add some fiber and vitamins. And hey - cheese is just calcium right? But seriously, this isn't one of those ridiculously fattening meals.

So the next time you're in the mood for mac n cheese, don't even waste your time on that powdered cheese. Make it with real ingredients!

White Cheddar Mac N Cheese with Onions and Broccoli:
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup onion, diced (I used 1/2 a small red onion)
3 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped into bite size pieces
8 oz whole grain medium shells
4 oz aged (2 yrs+ is best) white cheddar, shredded
4 oz gruyere, shredded
s&p to taste
1 tbsp soft margarine/butter to grease the dish
2 tbsp parmesan, grated

Start out by preparing everything (shredding, chopping, etc). I've found that it's easiest to start cooking if everything is already prepared. Plus, this is how they always do it on tv!
So shred the cheese - it's easiest to do this on a food scale. I got an inexpensive one at BB&B.
Then cut up the broccoli and the onion.
Even measure out the spices if you want. Use the soft margarine/butter to grease a 9x9 pyrex dish. And preheat the oven to 350 F.
So now you're ready to start. Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Add the onion, and cook until it is soft and translucent.
At this point, I cooked the broccoli in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove from water - add to an ice bath if you really want to stop the cooking. Save the water to use for the pasta.

Slowly add in the flour, maybe a tbsp at a time. Make sure you whisk it really well so there aren't any clumps. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, to get rid of the raw flour taste. Next, very very slowly add the milk. I added maybe 1/3 cup at a time, and whisked until smooth, then added the next bit. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and mustard. Keep on whisking, and continue cooking until the sauce thickens up. Reboil the water when you're waiting for the sauce to thicken up. This might take a while. For the longest time, my sauce just seemed like the consistency of milk. After a good 10 minutes, it started to get thicker. So don't give up! When it gets to a gravy-like consistency, take it off the heat.

This is when you can add your pasta to the boiling water. Reserving a handful of the gruyere and cheddar, slowly add into the sauce, stirring until well incorporated.
Drain the pasta after it cooks for 5 minutes. You don't want to overcook it, because it will continue to cook in the oven.

When the sauce is smooth and all of the cheese is incorporated, add s&p to taste. I didn't add any salt - I figure the cheese is salty enough. But I love pepper, so I added a decent amount of that. Then, fold in the pasta and the broccoli. Pour it all into the greased pyrex. Sprinkle the remaining gruyere and cheddar over the pasta, and then grate some parmesan right onto it.
Bake, uncovered, for ~30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and you have some crusty bits on top.
Let it sit for a few minutes, and then dig in!

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