Sunday, August 5, 2012

Not Your Mama's Mac & Cheese

Have you ever seen the movie Ratatouille?  It's a cute kid's movie about a little rat (or, as Maraea calls it, a "wittle mousie!") that loves to cook and through some fantastical chain of events, finds himself the chef of his own restaurant....that serves people.  Hey, it's a kid's movie.  But I love it.  There's a line in the movie recited by the creepy food critic, Ego, that goes something like this:

"I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow."

I love this line, because it's similar to my own food theology, which is: If it doesn't look good and smell good, it's not going in my mouth.  See, similarly double-meaningful, similarly dirty / yet not really -- right up my alley.  And as I sit here watching Ratatouille with my daughter for the 67,861,841,654,318,676th time, I was inspired to write a post about one of my most favorite, most delectable dishes: Macaroni and Cheese.

I know, I know, I know: here we are in the throes of summer and my offering is another heavy pasta dish.  But you know what?  Macaroni and cheese is a suppertime staple for many families in many regions -- in fact, the South is one of the hottest regions in our fine country and don't they have it at just about every big family meal?  Okay, maybe that's a generalization, and quite unfounded for that matter since I live in Yankee Land.  But still.  Who doesn't like a creamy, delicious mac n' cheese?  I invite you to make this dish part of your family's next get-together.

And pick up the movie Ratatouille, whether you have kids or not.  If you love to cook, like I do, you will still find it to be a great movie.

Macaroni and Cheese

  • 2 cups dry macaroni
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk, room temperature or warmed in the microwave
  • 1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 2 oz Velveeta, cubed
  • 1/2 - 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat your oven to 400 F and cook your macaroni according to package directions, and drain.

In a large saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour to make a roux.

Like my little egg-shaped domes of flour?  I think they are cute.

So cook the roux until it's smooth and bubbly over medium heat, about 1 minute.  Don't let it brown too much.  Add the warmed milk and whisk until combined and it starts to thicken.  It shouldn't take too long if your milk is warm; if it's cold, this part will seem like it's taking a while.  Season liberally with salt and pepper; taste to make sure it's to your liking.

Once your white sauce is nicely thickened, add the cream cheese and break it up with the whisk.  Turn your heat down to low at this point; now you're just melting the cheeses into the sauce.  Once the cream cheese has been incorporated, add the Velveeta.

See how thick that sauce is?  That Velveeta is just sitting on top of it.  Mmm mmm mmm.  That's heaven right there, folks.

So once the Velveeta melts, add the cheddar and monterey jack cheeses.  Whisk it all together till it's all melted and combined.

Pour your drained macaroni into the sauce.  Stir it all together.  You could actually serve it at this point as a stovetop macaroni dish.  Right now you're staring at it and your mouth is watering and you want to taste it..... go ahead.  Do it.  You won't be sorry.  Then you might change your mind about baking it altogether and turn off your oven.  Or, if you've got the willpower, stick it out and bake this bad boy.

Pour the mac and cheese into a greased casserole dish.  Combine the melted butter and bread crumbs -- use just enough bread crumbs to make a loose, wet-sand type of mixture.  Spread it over top of the macaroni.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese starts bubbling and the bread crumbs are nicely browned.

Serve as a side dish to pork chops or fried chicken.  Or serve as a main dish with garlic bread or salad as a side.

Yum yum yum!!!  Enjoy.  :)

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