Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The best Mac and Cheese you'll ever have

Nothing wrong with two pounds of Cabot
The best cheddar cheese in the world used to have a macaroni and cheese recipe on the back. My grandfather (and then, after he died, grandmother) used to make a pretty mean mac and cheese, too. So, I took the two recipes, pulled them in to one and, of course, added the magic ingredient. The result is phenomenal, and has three of my most favorite foods:

  1. Cabot seriously sharp cheddar
  2. Caramelized onions
  3. Cranberries
  4. Oh, and there's cayenne in there, too. You could call it the four Cs Mac and Cheese.
What this means is that you combine the tanginess of the cheddar, the sweetness of the onions, the sourness of the cranberries and the spiciness of the cayenne. It's fantastic.

So here's the deal. This will make enough for two 9x12 / 10x13 pans; it's enough to put in the fridge or freezer for the whole week. Or cut it in half and it's a good meal for two to four (depending on how hungry you are). Oh, and experiment, change portions, this is not exact.

The not-so-secret ingredient
  • 4 c elbow mac (about a pound, or a bit more)
  • 6 T of butter, plus a little more to grease the pan, plus a little more to caramelize the onions
  • 6 T flour
  • 1 t dry mustard (or quite a bit more of dijon)
  • 1 t cayenne (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 t ground pepper
  • 1 t worcestershire
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 c whole milk
  • 24-32 oz cheddar. Sharper the better. And really if it's not Cabot, you're doing it wrong. OH and it can not be yellow. DO NOT USE YELLOW CHEESE.
  • 1 to 2 onions, chopped, sauteed in butter as long as possible so they are brown and sweet. Don't add anything.
  • 1 cup (or so) of coarsely chopped bread crumbs (stale french or italian bread works very well for this)
  • About a pound of cranberries
Caramelize the onions. If you don't know how to do this, chop the onions, put them in a pan with butter brown them, then turn the heat to low and cook for a while. The lower and longer the better. If you don't do this ahead of time, it should be your first step. And if you do this ahead of time, make a bunch of onions, and put some in the fridge.

Cook the pasta fully. While it is boiling, grate about a pound and a half of cheese, or a bit more. Warm the milk (pouring cold milk in to a roux is a recipe for disaster) in a pot or microwave. Have the spices, milk and cheese by the stove.

Ready to go in the oven. I forgot to take a picture of
the beautifully-browned finished product. We were
too hungry for such frivolities.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low-to-medium heat and, once it is melted, slowly add the flour, whisking constantly. (Also, make sure you don't brown the butter.) This is the roux. This should develop in to a paste. Keep the heat low, and be careful not to over-brown it. Add the spices to this mixture. Then, slowly add the milk, continuing to whisk. Add the cheese bit by bit, stirring constantly. (Lots of stirring.) Once it thickens, turn the heat to low and keep stirring.

To this mixture, add the pasta, the caramelized onions, and the cranberries. Stir until the cranberries, if they are frozen together, are separated.

Grease pan(s) and pour the mixture in to the pans. Coarsely chop crusty bread (or use bread crumbs) and sprinkle across, and top this with about 1/4 of the cheese, reserved.

Bake at 400˚ for half an hour until the top and sides begin to brown. Slice and serve, and refrigerate leftovers. This can be made in pie tins and frozen for months and rewarmed in a 350˚ oven. That's how my grandfather made it, and he'd deliver it to our freezer for an easy kids meal. (Well, he used some swiss, and didn't add cranberries.) It makes a great adult comfort food meal too, especially when served with a salty, savory green (I'm thinking spinach, kale or asparagus).

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