Don’t Touch My Macaroni!

February 28, 2011

Hey, everybody! Alfredo here for my last blog post.

I have recently admitted to myself that I am selfish. I don’t mean the typical “you can’t borrow my stuff” selfish, I just mean with food. I like to call it my chronic Get-Your-Fork-Away-From-My-Plate syndrome. There are countless examples of my food selfishness, but one stands out more than the others.

From my fifth birthday to my eleventh, I chose the Macaroni Grill restaurant to celebrate with my friends and family. The employees would always sing “Happy Birthday” and I would get a complementary piece of chocolate cake. And this was a large piece of cake. In the spring of 2000, my grandpa came to the restaurant with us. I blushed as the employees sang to me, but all of my discretion vanished as the cake was set in front of me. I was only five years old, so most of the memories I have of that night are vague. However, one thing I remember quite clearly is the image of four forks coming in for the kill (a.k.a. a bite of cake). I quickly closed my arms around my plate, feeling shocked that everyone just assumed they could have some. And then they started laughing. My parents and my grandpa were laughing at me. Now, of course, I see why they were; it was probably hilarious to see a five-year-old girl get so possessive over her food. But at the time, I was furious. I ended up giving everyone a teensy tiny bite, but the rest was mine.

This was just the first of the many times that my food possessiveness took over me. I don’t know why, but it just drives me crazy if someone tries to take a bite of my food. Every time my grandpa eats out with us and someone asks (tentatively) for a bite of whatever I’m having, this story comes back to haunt me.

“Oh, don’t ask Annie for her food,” he’ll say with a laugh, “She’ll poke you with her fork!” I laugh along with him, acting as though I would never actually do this, but all the while the person who asked will rarely get the bite they wanted.

This past week, I chose to make the Baked Macaroni and Cheese dish for my final cooking project. As you can probably imagine, I got extra protective of food that was not only delicious, but that I also made myself.

When I saw that Macaroni and Cheese was an option, I couldn’t resist. I rushed right to the store and bought (well, my mom bought) all of the ingredients.

All the ingredients (and equipment) mise-en-place.

First thing’s first, I set out all of the ingredients mise-en-place. All the spices were so pretty in the prep bowls! Secondly, I set the oven to 375 degrees. After this,I began melting the butter in order to make breadcrumbs. The bread smelled so fresh, and, with the butter, the scent was amazing!

Setting the oven.

While even more butter was melting, I heated the milk. Earlier that day, I had found out that milk can burn, so I was watching that saucepan like a hawk. Meanwhile, my other eye was watching bubbles form in the butter. I have to admit, I was dreading this point in the recipe. I mean, anything with a silent ‘x’ just sounds hard to make, right? Luckily, though, making a roux was easier than it was to spell it!

The heating milk.

The roux.

After pouring the heated (but not burnt!) milk into the roux and whisking for what seemed like forever while at the same time managing a boiling pot full of pasta, I finally realized that multitasking is NOT my thing. Everything quieted down, though, after it was all mixed together with the spices, cheese, and breadcrumbs on top.

Whisking the milk and the roux.

Adding in the cheese (and everything else).

I was extremely pleased with the finished product, and I believe my family was, too! It was delicious with a bok choy salad and a Rustic Rosemary Fig Tart for dessert.

Before...

...and After!

At the end of the meal, I had to face my fears as I watched my dad put some macaroni into a Tupperware for his lunch at work the next day. I protested at first, but then I realized that my dad had enjoyed my meal so much that he wanted to eat it again. That was an even better feeling than having it all to myself.

The finished Macaroni and Cheese. Yum yum yum!

Interested in the recipe? Here it is:

Ingredients:

6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish

5 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup all purpose flour (I used wheat and I couldn’t tell the difference)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar (10 oz ended up being about 4 1/2 cups)

2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere (can substitute Swiss) of 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano (I used about 5 oz of Gruyere and it was 2 cups)

1 pound elbow macaroni

Directions:

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan (I used a skillet because I didn’t have enough saucepans) over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Poor butter into bowl with bread and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a  medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet (I used a large saucepan) over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute (this is the roux!).

2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture (roux) while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick (this took a while for me; about 15 minutes).

3. Remove the pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.

4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 minutes fewer than the manufacturer’s directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions). Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 3o minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

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One Response to “Don’t Touch My Macaroni!”

  1. Janet Hughes said

    I love, love, love your blog Alfredo;) I’m also going to give your recipe a try as soon as I get the chance. I’m so proud of you (always) and enjoy seeing what’s new in your life.
    Looking forward to seeing what’s happening next.

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