Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Comfort Food: Macaroni and Cheese

In conjunction with Penn Appétit's comfort-food themed Fall 2012 magazine, we are featuring a few of our bloggers' favorite comfort foods, along with their cherished recipes.

Today's featured recipe:
Macaroni and Cheese

Something magical happens when you combine pasta with cheese. Pasta itself is yummy and cheese is one of my top food groups, but a marriage of the two creates my favorite comfort food- mac and cheese.

Like any other die-hard macaroni and cheese fan, I don’t discriminate between the fancy and cheap stuff. I was the girl who got far too excited about mac-and-cheese day in the elementary school cafeteria. I spent a sizeable part of my childhood winters contentedly eating Annie’s Shells and Cheddar by the bowlful, and still perk up at the sight of its iconic purple box. In my opinion, mac and cheese is just as good in a paper bowl as a glass dish- both White Dog’s savory lobster mac and cheese and Boston Market’s gooey cheesy mac rank close to heavenly on my list. And I will admit, at late hours of the night, even Wawa mac and cheese has something to offer.

Until recently, mac and cheese was something that was prepared for me, and I had never attempted it myself. However, with a kitchen of my own this year, I decided with my friend, a fellow mac-and-cheese aficionado, to try making some of our own. We found a Martha Stewart recipe on the popular food blog SmittenKitchen, and the results were incredible.

We knew we had found something special, even before the mac and cheese was done, upon sampling the cheese sauce. My friend and I would have been completely content simply eating the cheese sauce from the pot- the combination of milk, butter, Wisconsin white cheddar cheese, and pepper was unlike anything I’d ever tasted.

When I took my first bite of the final product, I knew I had found my new favorite. It was honestly one of the best mac and cheeses I’ve ever had. How such simple ingredients could yield something so delicious never fails to amaze me- every single person who I (begrudgingly) offered it to instantly was hooked. The white cheddar was smooth and creamy, and the kick of pepper kept the cheese from dulling my taste buds. The entire combination was pure comfort.

I’m tempted to say this is one of the finest mac and cheeses I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. I'm also not a super experienced cook, and this was so easy to prepare. I have a feeling when I’m home for winter break, this is going to replace Annie’s Shells and Cheddar as a staple. This savory, gooey, cheesy dish is simply too good to pass up.

Martha Stewart’s Creamy Mac-and-Cheese
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics

Serves 12
Note: When my friend and I made the mac-and-cheese we adjusted it to four servings. We used pre-made breadcrumbs, omitted the nutmeg, and used packaged crumbled parmasean cheese. The first two changes were completely acceptable, but in the future, I'd definitely recommend using fresh grated parmesan instead for improved melting and a smoother texture.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

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