Improv Mac and Cheese
Category: Main Dishes | Blog URL: http://www.weheartmacandcheese.com/2010/01/cheese-drawer-mac-and-cheese-night-at.html
This recipe was entered in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest, a compilation of the world’s best food blogs which was published in Fall 2010.
If you prepare as much mac and cheese as Suz and I, you're bound to end up with loads of cheese odds and ends. I had several tiny hunks leftover from the Amy Sedaris mac, but not enough to try out any of the recipes I had on hand. Without a fondue pot or penchant for cheese sandwiches, I had no choice but to improvise. Drawing inspiration from the TV show Chopped, I decided to make mac and cheese using only ingredients I had in the kitchen (or I was too lazy to go to the store, you decide.)
For anyone unfamiliar with the show Chopped here's how it works: Four chefs go head to head in a three course cooking competition where they must prepare a dish using the ingredients found in a mystery basket. The cooks are allowed to use anything they find in the pantry to enhance their dish but all mystery ingredients must be incorporated.
It's important to preface this by saying, I rarely make up recipes. Sure, I can whip together a stir fry or some spaghetti sauce without looking at a recipe but anything more complicated, I leave to the experts. In this case, I did glance at a couple of roux recipes for ratios of flour to milk but everything else was accomplished by winging it.
The first step was to grate all the cheese. I then weighed out each portion so I'd be able to pass on the info should this preparation prove successful.
Next, I made the roux using 2 cups of 2% milk and 3/4 cup of heavy cream and whipped it like the Dickens until it was nice and thick. Once I added in all the cheese, I knew I had some serious sauce. Almost resembling an aioli in texture, it was dense and hella cheesy. Instead of elbow macaroni, I used Conchiglie noodles, a ridged pasta shaped like an elbow but pinched on one side presumably to keep the sauce its prisoner. When I dumped it over the noodles, it drowned the pasta in sea of rich gooeyness. I figured it couldn't possibly be a bad thing for the sauce to outweigh the noodles.
Staring at a box of crackers leftover from a recent gathering, I thought, what if I mash up these butter crackers to make a topping? Is that crazy? And what if I add some Parmesan cheese? Could be great, could be a disaster. Who knows!
The End Result
I don't want to be accused of hubris but this was by far, the best mac and cheese I've ever prepared. It was as if the noodles were born in the sauce.* The nuttiness of the Gruyere tantalized the taste buds while the smokiness of the Gouda gave the sauce that je ne sais quoi. The overabundance of cheese sauce insured every noodle was crammed with flavor. The butter cracker topping was light, crunchy and strangely refreshing. But don't take my word for it, listen to the pros. I delivered portions to The Humboldt Fog and my friend Dina and they raved. THF and Mr. THF said it was my best mac and cheese to date. She also noted that it reheated very well in the oven and I found the same to be true of the microwave. Next time I'll double the recipe in order to yield more leftovers but otherwise, this one is a keeper. In my first ever attempted Chopped competition, I emerged "The Chopped Champion." And then I turned to face the imaginary table of judges and cried tears of joy...slow fade.
*At the Gardens of Taxco, a kitschy Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood, they describe their signature chicken dish as being "born in the sauce."