Last week’s Polar Vortex inspired me to make something that wasn’t dessert. I have to be honest, I’m not much of a cook. I prefer baking because it’s formulaic, and that gives me reassurance that it’ll work every single time. I mean, it’s science; when has science ever been wrong? Anyway, I don’t like cooking much because it’s basically a free for all in a pot, while crossing your fingers that everything will taste good. I know that there are recipes for savory dishes but I feel like I have a bigger chance to mess up, which makes me nervous.
So, this Polar Vortex. It was freezing everywhere last week. In my house, there was a lot of hot and liquid dinners happening. My mom made a giant batch of soup for two reasons; this crazy cold and because my dad is sick. I’m not a fan of soup, so I was on my own. They ate that stuff for the entire week, while I had to figure out dinner myself. I’m not a stranger to making my own dinners, as I have been doing so for quite some time. They’re usually super simple, like a baked potato or a bowl of brown rice (which I still can’t make). The lack of formulas and rules in cooking scares me, which is why I am a baker. Having this blog has pushed me into the kitchen more often, which I love, but there’s more to cooking and baking than sweets (blasphemy!).
I trucked into my kitchen, looking for something warm to make. I got sick of eating potatoes and dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets (don’t judge me; they’re delicious), so it was time for a real dinner. I’m kind of a fan of mac and cheese. I say kind of because I’m usually hot and cold about it. I love pasta and I love melted cheese but eating a bowl of mac and cheese can get old really quickly. The lack of tastes and textures usually found in mac and cheese is boring to me, which is why I rarely eat it. However, in a moment of freezing weakness, I decided to make up a batch and am really glad I did.
This recipe, which I found through Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs), is actually Martha Stewart’s. If you don’t know, Martha is the queen. She knows her stuff, so I knew this recipe was a good one; a bonus because Deb had made it as well. I was intrigued because this recipe seemed to solve my monotonous mac and cheese issue with the homemade crouton topping. I love my carbs with more carbs; the more the merrier! I made half of the original recipe, and followed it pretty much verbatim. The only change was that I used yellow sharp Cheddar instead of white.
This mac and cheese was amazing. It was so much better that that boxed stuff (anything is better than that, honestly)! Not only was it delicious but it was so easy to make. I set up a mise-en-place and breezed right through everything. It helped to have an extra set of hands, too. This was also my first foray into making a bechamel sauce, a.k.a one of the mother sauces. I was so nervous about messing it up but it was a lot easier than I thought. The result was a super cheesy and delicious pasta dish. Both of my parents, and even my lactose intolerant sister, loved it! The fact that my dad, Mr. “I hate melted cheese” liked it was enough of an indication that this recipe is a winner. The crispy cubes of bread was a welcomed texture change, in the mix of soft, and gooey elbows full of cheese. Accompanied with a salad, this is the perfect dinner for one of those super chilly nights.
The success of this recipe has inspired me to continue getting in the kitchen to make things other than cakes and cookies. I hope to make and post a savory dish at least once a month. It’s important to face your fears, even if you were pushed into it by (freezing) outside factors.
Martha’s Mac and Cheese – adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
- 3 slices of bread, with the crusts removed and cut into 1/4-1/2″ cubes
- 2 3/4 cups of milk
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp coarse salt, plus more for water
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 1/4 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup grated Gruyére or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/2lb elbow macaroni
- Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 2 quart pan/casserole dish and set aside. Cut bread into cubes and place into a bowl. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and pour onto bread cubes, toss and set aside.
- Warm milk in a saucepan over medium heat. In another medium saucepan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. When bubbling, add the flour and whisk to prevent lumps; cooking for one minute while stirring.
- While whisking, slowly pour the warmed milk, a little at a time. Continue cooking, while whisking, until bubbly and thick (8-12 minutes).
- Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne. Add 1 1/2 cups of the grated Cheddar and 3/4 cup of the Gruyére (or 1/2 cup of the grated Pecorino). Stir until cheese is melted. Set aside.
- Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook macaroni until the outside is cooked but the inside is undercooked (about 2-3 minutes less than the time indicated on the package). Transfer the macaroni to a colander and rinse under cold water. Stir into the cheese sauce.
- Pour mixture into the prepped dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of Cheddar and 1/4 cup of Gruyére (or 1/8 cup of Pecorino), and then top with the bread cubes. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before serving.
- I used an 8×8 pan, also known as a brownie pan, and it fit perfect. Any 2 quart pan/casserole dish will do for this amount. The original recipe that serves 12 needs a 3 quart pan/dish.
- Quick trick: use the butter wrappers to butter the pan.
- I used a yellow sharp Cheddar, but I think any kind will work fine.
- I originally wanted to use whole wheat elbows but was unable to find some at my supermarket. Any short pasta with a hole should work well.
- If you’re not feeling wasteful, you can leave the crusts on the bread like I did. No one will notice.
- To add more flavor to your croutons, consider adding some chopped garlic to the butter while melting.