Tuesday, December 8, 2009
M+C Experiment 2: Death by Mac + Cheese
Last night, at 9pm, Phineas and I left the house to take a walk. We were driven out into the cold, desperate to mitigate some of the damage inflicted on our waistlines and arteries by mac+cheese experiment #2. Oy!
Let me start at the beginning. I decided that I would try a custard-type mac+cheese recipe, since I am less familiar them. After reading a few different versions, I settled on the Cook's Illustrated recipe, based on John Thorne's original. Essentially, you do most of the work on the stove and then just crisp in the broiler. Perfect for a weeknight!
Yesterday, I arrived home ready to cook. But there was a package of bacon thawing on the counter. Apparently, Phineas did not get the memo re: my embargo on bacon. When I pointed out that the recipe called for 12 oz of cheddar, 6 tbsp of butter, a can of evaporated milk and 2 eggs - all for 1/2 a pound of pasta (cavatappi) - he relented and we compromised on adding 5 oz of cooked ham instead.
Basic preparations are: Brown 1c breadcrumbs in 2 tbsp butter while pasta cooks. Drain pasta and stir in 4tbsp butter until melted. Add mixture of evap milk, eggs, a dash of hot sauce, pepper, and most of the cheese to pasta and stir over a low heat until hot and thick (that is when I stirred in the ham).
Dump the pasta mixture into a casserole dish and top with bread crumbs and 1 oz reserved cheese. Pop under the broiler until toasted. Look how good it looks!
Changes to the recipe: Well, there was the ham. In addition, it called for more salt than I was willing to add to the cheese sauce since the ham would be salty enough. Also, I used 10 instead of 8 oz of pasta because I worried that it would be too rich otherwise.
The good: The breadcrumb topping was perfect. I had just used a hunk of italian bread sauteed in butter. It was crunchy and buttery - exactly what you would want. I also liked that the recipe was indeed easy for a weeknight (no long baking).
The bad: The mac+cheese was so super-rich and heavy... it was too rich and heavy, even with the extra pasta added in. I'm not being demure here. You really couldn't eat a lot of it. I was done in a few fork-fulls. And, the cheddar flavor was near over-powering. It is the kind of extreme recipe that you use to show company how over-the-top rich you can make something, but it isn't the kind of mac+cheese that you could tuck into a big bowl of on a rainy night and feel a sense of comfort and calm. No. Definitely not. Cause then, you would be driven out into the rain for a walk.
The ugly: I took a small portion for lunch to work today. It doesn't reheat very well.
Final verdict: This also will not be my go-to recipe for the simple reason that I want some versatility - an ability to add what I have on hand and have a good reliable mac+cheese. I'm fairly certain I will never make this version again. And my arteries thank me. Oh well. Upward and onward!