About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mac & Cheese

I have a confession to make. I have a few blue boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in my pantry, and worse... there used to be more of them. 

Yes, it's true.  Despite the fact that we grow almost all our own food right here on the Ranch -  from vegetables to beef, pork, chicken, duck etc; despite the fact that we are a certified goat cheese dairy, and make our own cheddar, Gouda, jack, Swiss, Havarti  etc cheeses; and despite the fact that I am a highly-trained and experienced former professional chef... Kathryn and I do, every great once in a while, make and eat boxed macaroni and cheese.
In our defense, it's always some sort of "special situation" that warrants breaking out a blue box.  It's usually one of those days when I'm working on a project that I can't get away from all morning that drags on way past lunch time and there's nothing in the fridge that Kathryn can easily heat up.  Barn cleaning day is a classic mac & cheese day as I'm stuck on the tractor all day.  K gets out the blue box and  whips out lunch (usually with the addition of some of our homemade smoked sausages) and calls me in for a quick break when it's ready.
Personally, I've attempted to make blue box mac and cheese just once.  It was about 4 years ago, and it was a total disaster.  I missed the part of the directions where you add the milk and stirred the dry powder directly into the cooked macaroni.  Oh-Lordy what a mess!  The whole thing seized up in about 10 seconds to the point I thought I was going to have to throw it all away - pot, spoon and all.  Completely inedible.  Since then mac-in-a-box duties have fallen solely to Kathryn. 
What can I say?  It's not a very good product, but at least it's a lot faster and easier than from scratch.
Or is it?
A few days ago I made a big batch of Baked Macaroni and Cheese and knocked it out in such short order (while doing a whole bunch of other things at the same time including helping birth-out a couple of goat babies) that I've come to the conclusion that the real deal is just as good a deal to make.
To start with, my recipe is drop-dead simple:
                         B M R Baked Mac & Cheese
Yield:   1, 4" Hotel Pan
2 Pounds  Elbow Macaroni
1 Gallon  Milk
4  Pounds  Cheese Blend , Shredded (see note)
Seasonings To Taste:  Granulated Garlic, Granulated Onion, Salt
As Needed:  Blond Roux (see note)
3 Pounds  Seasoned Fresh Bread Crumbs (see note)
1. Boil the macaroni in plenty water until very tender.  Drain well.
2. Combine the milk and shredded cheese and heat on medium, stirring regularly to avoid sticking, until very hot and cheese is melted
3. Season to taste with garlic, onion and salt
4. Add the roux and bring to a simmer, stir almost constantly until thick, adding more roux as necessary .  Cook on very low heat for a few minutes.
5. Toss the macaroni in the sauce and pour into a lightly greased 4" hotel pan
6. Top with seasoned crumbs and bake, uncovered at 350F (325F convection oven) for about 45 minutes until bubbly all over and crumbs have browned nicely.
1.  Cheese blend: cheddar, jack, havarti, and/or gouda etc your choice.
2.  Blond Roux: equal parts by weight butter and flour, cooked over very low heat for 1-15 minutes without browning at all.  Rule of thumb: add cold (room temperature) roux to hot liquids or hot roux to cold liquids. Do ahead.  Always keep some on-hand.
3.   Seasoned Fresh Bread Crumbs: Fresh bread pulsed in a food processor with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, granulated onion, parsley and a little olive oil to a medium-fine crumb. Can be done ahead.  Can be frozen for future uses.

Of course, my elbow macs didn't take any longer to cook than the ones that come in the blue boxes nor were they any more difficult so that's a wash.
I always keep a container of roux at-the-ready so the sauce only took about 15 minutes:  While the pasta was cooking I started heating the milk.  While the milk heated I grated the cheese (took about 2 minutes to cut into chunks and chip fine in the food processor) then added it to the milk.

Once the cheese was out of the food processor bowl it was only another couple of minutes to make the fresh bread crumbs in the same bowl - no need to wash between. 
By that point the sauce was ready for thickening. 

While the sauce simmered I drained the elbows.  When the sauce was ready I tossed in the elbows.
At this point you have something akin to the boxed product (but infinitely better) in about 20 minutes - but I wanted Baked Mac & Cheese.
I poured the macaroni and cheese sauce into the hotel pan, topped it with the crumbs and put the pan into the pre-heated oven.  About 45 minutes later it was perfectly done.  Time to eat.

This was some real top-notch Mac & Cheese and it wasn't a whole lot more time or work than from the box.  And an added bonus... this recipe makes a LOT!  Even after a couple of meals featuring Baked Mac & Cheese, I was able to freeze 8, 2-person portions so future meals are as easy as popping them into the microwave or oven to heat.  Faster AND easier than the blue box stuff!

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