November 22, 2012

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese

It's Thanksgiving!  Only my favorite day of the year; mostly because the entire day is about food.  I think that's why it's most everyone's favorite day.  For about the 7th year in a row I'm headed to my sister's to celebrate with our family and my brother-in-law's side of the family.  My typical role is sous chef/dish washer but sometimes I bring a little somthin' to add.

A few years back I attempted a crock-pot macaroni and cheese and it kinda flopped.  In my mind I was thinking "the kids will love this!", but it turned into a mushy, flavorless, starchy heap covered in fake cheese.  I'm pretty sure the kids didn't even like it.

This year I'm going macaroni and cheese at it again, but of the more grown-up variety.  You know, melt the butter and add flour and milk and spices and let it simmer until the flavors come together.  And then add cup after cup after cup of shredded cheese.  Real cheese.  Grown-up cheese from the specialty cheese area at my grocery store. $21 worth of cheese, to be exact. You know it has to be good.
I did a quick search for recipes and chose one that was featured in the Los Angeles Times.  It calls for 5 cups of mild cheddar and 3 cups of Swiss gruyere.  I went with Hennings mild cheddar, Grand Reserve gruyere and a white medium cheddar.  I'm assuming you could use any combination in this recipe, depending on your flavor preferences.  As a side note, I used just over a pound of the cheddar and a half pound of the gruyere to get to the required 7 cups of shredded cheese.  I over-estimated how many blocks of cheese it would take and ended up with about a half pound of cheddar that I did not shred; surely it will go to good use in another recipe.

Before you get started, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and cook 1lb. of large shell pasta or large elbow macaroni in salted water.

You will need:

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1tps. melted butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups milk (I used whole, but you can probably substitute another variety)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
4 cups mild cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded Swiss gruyere cheese (I used a different type of gruyere but it worked)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1.) Toast the panko bread crumbs in a teaspoon of melted butter in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally as to avoid burning.
2.) Melt butter over medium heat and stir in flour until smooth and bubbling slightly.  Remove mixture from heat and add the milk, spices and bay leaf and return to heat until it comes to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.) Remove the bay leaf and stir in the gruyere and 3 cups of the cheddar until everything is melted and incorporated into the milk mixture. Add the pasta to the pot containing the cheese sauce until coated.  Then pour into a buttered 9X13 baking dish.  The baking dish needs to be relatively deep.
4.) Top macaroni and cheese with remaining cup of cheddar cheese and bread crumbs and cover with foil.  Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, uncover and bake for 10 additional minutes.  Broil for 5 minutes before serving. 

Before going into the oven...

After baking...
I did a taste test to make sure it wasn't poisonous and the finished product is rich and creamy and very full-flavored. Is it the best macaroni and cheese I've every had?  Well, I think it's still too early to tell but it will be a nice addition to our Thanksgiving meal.  I have so much to be thankful for today, beyond what I can even imagine.  I hope your day is filled with all the people and things that inspire you to give the most thanks!

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