March 16, 2006

Prescription cheese

Today, my doctor told me that I need to get more calcium in my diet, and suggested increasing my dairy. Despite daily yoghurt infusions and a fondness for cheese, apparently I still need more. I was still ruminating on the ways I could possibly get more dietary calcium - running the list through my mind and trying to figure out if I was missing out on any major calcium sources - when I realized that I knew exactly what to make for dinner: something so rich, extravagant and dairy-laden that I tend to only make it once or twice a year.

Macaroni and cheese is a quintessentially North American dish but, sadly enough, most people make it out of boxes if they make it at all. This is a darn shame. This version uses real cheese and real butter, and it tastes out of this world. Not only that, but it doesn't take longer than the boxed stuff (you just have to do a couple of things while the water is coming to a boil). In a little nod toward Rob Feenie's splendid mac n' cheese with its cap of Irish-cured bacon lardons and four different cheeses, tonight I walked on the wilder side of macaroni and cheese: I added a little blue.

Macaroni & Cheese
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated February 1997

Serves 4

125 g. elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup evaporated milk (not condensed milk!)
5 oz./140 g. grated sharp cheddar (6 oz. if you're not using blue)
1 oz. /30 g. crumbled Danish Blue
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Put a pot of water on to boil. While it comes to a boil, in a small bowl whisk together the egg, 1/2 cup of the evaporated milk, the pepper sauce, salt, mustard seed, and white pepper. Grate the cheddar. That's pretty much your whole prep.

Add the macaroni to the boiling water, and cook according to preference - I don't need to tell you that's al dente do I? Drain the pasta and return it to the pot over a low heat. Add the butter and stir well until melted. Add the milk/egg mixture and stir until it starts to thicken. Turn the heat off, and start adding the cheese, a small handful at a time, finishing with the blue cheese. Do not turn the heat back on to make it melt faster, or it will separate out into a grainy, ugly mess that will make you cry. Be patient, stir for the couple of minutes that it takes, and serve.

This is bloody rich, so small servings are best, preferably with lots of veggies and maybe a slice of meatloaf or something. Hey, I need more iron, too, did I mention? I won't be having this weekly in the name of dietary calcium, but it's a lovely treat - and what better time?


linda said...

Not stalking you culinarily, but I had planned to make Mac and Cheese for Sunday Dinner. This recipe looks good, but I am leaning towards the one in my (new) Rebar cookbook.

kickpleat said...

wow, that looks so good! i haven't had mac n' cheese in a long time and maybe this weekend will be the time to make some. thanks for the inspiration!!

Dawna said...

Hi Linda - I'm not worried - partly because I know how many things I make from other people's blogs! I'm looking forward to hearing how your Rebar version goes. I haven't been to Rebar in over ten years, I think...

Hi Kickpleat - I know what you mean. I don't make this that often because it's pretty rich... but when you look at it, really, it's only 1.5 oz. cheese per person, which is about the amount you usually get on a sandwich, right? It just tastes deadly.

Randi said...

Hey, I thought this was Alton Brown's recipe!! This is a great recipe, but I think it doesnt reheat that well. I wish I liked Blue cheese, but I cant stand it.

Dawna said...

Hi Randi,

Yes, Alton's recipe is very similar to the Cooks Illustrated version, although his has a slightly lower cheese ratio . I increase the oomph from the hot sauce and the mustard seed beyond either of those, though, and I prefer white pepper to black. Another thing that I sometimes do, which I didn't note above, is to sprinkle the finished dish with nutmeg, which is very tasty.

This dish is tricky to reheat, but I find that if I'm willing to be patient, use a low power on the microwave with frequent stirrings (I mean - every 15 seconds on 40% power for an 1100 watt microwave) you can get a smooth re-melt that isn't granular or separated. Maybe it's the blue cheese that does it...