Jan 23, 2011

This Ain't No Kraft Mac and Cheese

Who doesn't love a good mac and cheese?? And we're not talking about the neon colored radioactive looking powder you get in a box - real gooey cheese over noodles.
This post is partly inspired by a food cart that someone recently told Caitlin about. The guy made nothing but mac and cheese - sounds a bit boring? But wait - he had about 20 different toppings lined up for people to put on top - everything from tomatoes and fresh herbs to fried bacon - genius!! Unfortunately he didn't make it in the Eugene food cart business (if he'd only stay up late enough for the drunk college kids stumbling home, I bet he'd make a killing), but his vision lives on here!

Caitlin: I feel like mac and cheese is popping up all over the place; it's the new "gourmet" hamburger - not to mention, Michael Symon's goat cheese and chicken mac and cheese won the James Beard award. So when I heard about this food cart, my mind was spinning out of control with various cheeses and toppings. I had to try it. I made a couple different versions: in the first I used smoked cheese (a nice blend I found at Trader Joes) and then I topped it with tomatoes, sour cream, onions and fried pancetta. The second kind was more Southwestern inspired: I used only cheddar cheese, but I topped it with Mexican cream, tomatoes, onions, fresh corn and avocado. I also decided to use whole grain rotini for some added nutrition (not always comparable to the real deal, but when it's disguised in cheese and toppings, it comes fairly close). I actually really loved both versions, so I can't say that I preferred one over the other. But the only pictures I took were of the latter, so here you go. Drool away - and for goodness sake try it!!!

Caitlin's version with cheddar cheese  topped with tomatoes, corn, onions and avocado
Monica: I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with macaroni and cheese.  I love cheese (most of the time), however, I sometimes find the milk/cream/cheese combination to be overpowering. I have made many different variations of mac and cheese in the past (from the box, Trader Joe's frozen entree, and John Legend's famous Baked Mac & Cheese - which I saw on the Martha Stewart Show), so when we decided to give it a whirl for the blog, I was looking forward to Michael Symon's award winning recipe.  I made his suggested goat cheese recipe (minus the chicken) and I also used the same recipe but substituted cheddar cheese in place of the goat cheese - I was serving this to my nieces and I knew trying to get them to eat goat cheese would've been rather impossible.  I do have to admit that this has now become my favorite recipe for mac and cheese. I like goat cheese, however, it is a bit more decadent in flavor and texture, so if you prefer cheddar, stick to that. I also loved the fact that it was made on the stovetop, rather than baked, because the stovetop mac and cheese is reminiscent of what the classic childhood favorite is all about. I set a few toppings out to jazz up the mac and cheese - mimicking the food cart idea.  I cut up some tomatoes, diced fresh chives, fried up some pancetta, and also served some fresh corn niblets. I topped my plate with all of the above and it was SO good - especially after adding the pancetta! 
Monica's Version with Goat Cheese topped w/fresh corn, chives, tomatoes, & pancetta
Ingredient List 
Serves 4
1/2 lb pasta: suggest rotini, elbow macaroni or rigatoni
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp dried mustard
If using cheddar or smoked - 2 cups
If using goat cheese - 6 oz.
s&p to taste
*For the Toppings:
chopped tomatoes
chopped onions or chives
fresh corn
sour cream, Greek yogurt or Mexican cream
bacon or pancetta, fried in small pieces
fresh herbs

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. When it boils, put the pasta in and start the roux.

In another small pot, melt the butter. Add the flour, whisk and let cook for a minute. Add the milk and cream and bring to a low boil and reduce so it thickens. Add the cheese and stir until it melts; add the mustard and seasoning. 

Drain the pasta, put in a baking dish and stir in the cheese. Serve with various toppings and enjoy!

Get creative with the type of cheese you use - cheddar and mozzarella are good staples, but you can be brave and use goat, smoked cheeses, gruyere, gorgonzola - the list goes on!

If you are making the goat cheese version, you can omit the butter, flour, and dried mustard.

If using cheddar cheese, you can add a flavorful stout (like Rogue) to the cheese sauce.

Try using whole grain pasta. It's not always comparable to the real deal, but when it's disguised in cheese and toppings, you'll hardly notice the difference.

The toppings can vary depending on what type of cheese you use. Get creative!

Caitlin: Any good friend of mine knows how much I love ABBA - quite embarrassing and sadly, true. But I was in good spirits, excited about this meal and Allan wasn't home yet so I could unabashedly sing along to Fernando without fear of ridicule.
Monica: Since this is a modern twist on comfort food, I chose a playlist that reflected different takes on classic tunes.
1) What a Wonderful World - Joey Ramone
2) It's Alright with Me - Tom Waits
3) I Should Have Known Better - She & Him
4) Goin' Out of My Head - Ella Fitzgerald & Frank Sinatra
5) Redemption Song - Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer

Drink of Choice
Caitlin: Suggest a Rogue Ale.
Monica: A nice Ale would probably go great with this dish, especially if you are not counting calories. I opted for something a little less filling - a small glass of Rosé (not White Zinfandel).

A Recipe to Remember?
YES!! Mac and cheese is fantastic, especially when you get creative with the cheese and the toppings.

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