Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Homemade Mac N Cheese
Comfort Food At Its Best
Warm up with homemade macaroni and cheese,
with just a hint of smoky flavor
and a little bite of chipotle peppers.
Well, now I've done it - I can never go back to the foil pouch of orange goo again!
As another kitchen challenge, I tried my hand at making homemade macaroni and cheese. Be warned; you won't want to eat it any other way. It's really fairly easy and doesn't require fancy ingredients (depending on just how fancy your mac and cheese will be) but it does take a little time, as do most things that are worth the extra effort.
Two things to remember to make great homemade macaroni and cheese: start with the best cheese you can get (obviously!) and slightly undercook the macaroni.
For the best cheese, grab a block and start shredding it by hand. No pre-packaged shredded cheese in a bag. It is coated in anti-caking agents and doesn't make the most optimal cheese sauce. Plus, shredding your own cheese is more cost-effective in the long run. For this recipe, I chose an apple and hardwood smoked Gouda cheese, and a sharp chipotle Cheddar cheese. I prefer strong, sharp flavors in macaroni and cheese but the choice of cheese is up to you.
2 cups dry macaroni noodles
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups milk (whole milk, or a very good 2% milk like Oberweis)
1 teaspoon dry mustard (Colman's)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 pound cheese, shredded
First, cook the dry macaroni noodles. Most package cooking directions will suggest cooking for 8 to 10 minutes. To get the best results for macaroni and cheese, however, you'll want to cook the macaroni for a little less time, about 7 minutes. Otherwise, you will have mushy macaroni in the finished dish; it has to stand up to combining with the cheese sauce and baking in the oven for about half an hour. So, undercook slightly, drain and rinse with hot water. Set aside.
Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
Next, make a simple roux to begin the cheese sauce. Melt butter in a large saucepan and quickly whisk in the flour until it is completely incorporated. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly over medium-low heat, until the mixture has thickened. Stir in the dry mustard.
Add the egg by first adding 3 tablespoons of sauce to the beaten egg in the small bowl. Whisk very quickly - this is called tempering the mixture. If you were to add the egg directly to the large pan of sauce, the egg would cook almost immediately and you would have little bits of scrambled egg in your sauce. Not quite the way it's supposed to work!
And why the egg, anyway? The egg mainly serves as a binding ingredient, allowing you to more neatly cut your mac and cheese into squares. If you don't mind your mac and cheese spilling out everywhere in freeform cheesy glory on your plate, you can omit the egg.
Above: tempering the egg.
When the tempered egg mixture is nice and smooth, add it to the sauce. Stir in salt and freshly ground pepper. And then... stir in all that glorious shredded cheese and keep stirring until smooth and totally incorporated in the sauce. Reserve about a half of a cup for sprinkling on top of the mac and cheese before it goes in the oven.
Butter a 2 to 2.2 quart baking dish. Pour the macaroni and cheese into the dish and top with the reserved shredded cheese. You can also use dried bread crumbs or cracker crumbs, but I really just like lots of extra cheese on top. It will become nicely browned after baking in the oven!
Bake the macaroni and cheese uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, then turn up the oven temperature to 375 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes to lightly brown the shredded cheese topping. It's finished when everything is bubbling hot!
Approximately 6 servings.
Cheesy detail of "Better With Age" by Lonesome Road Gallery.