Saturday, September 12, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese


Confession: I love Velveeta Shells and Cheese. Yes, the processed, bright yellow, gelatinous packet, which melts into a creamy sauce over the shells, as they nestle into each other, creating satisfying clumps of noodles. Well, I have to amend this confession slightly. I love Velveeta Shells and Cheese when it is steaming hot. In fact, the first bite right out of the pan is usually the best. After about five minutes of being in a bowl, the sauce starts to congeal, giving it a plastic-like flavor and texture. The color sets into a deeper, more artificial shade of orange-yellow. I usually eat it anyway since I made to satisfy a very specific craving: creamy, dreamy mac and cheese. I do love baked mac and cheese: b├ęchamel*, Gruyere*, panko breadcrumbs*. But it will not do the trick when this craving strikes; it is a different beast entirely.

My Food Network friend, Alton Brown, has devised a solution to satisfying this special craving that involves real cheese, and doesn’t disappoint you half way through. I saw it on his show years ago, but made it for the first time last weekend. It honestly looks like Velveeta: a pile of smooth meltiness that creates a delightful squashy sound as you stir it in the pan. However, real sharp cheddar is the primary ingredient, and the flavor attests to this fact. The other ingredients are responsible for its unmatched creamy texture. I, of course, have made a few adjustments, but I have included dear Alton’s original recipe, unscathed, with my personal recommendations at the bottom.

Ingredients

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
6 ounces evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

Directions

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.

I did not use the whole ½ pound of pasta because I knew I would eat it all. Because of this, I cut back a bit on the butter and cheese (8 ounces), and made the sauce with a single 5-ounce can of evaporated milk. I just added a little sauce at a time until it reached the perfect velvety consistency. For the budding chefs out there, if at all possible, buy a block of cheddar and grate it yourself; it truly makes a difference. I also cut back on the salt significantly and used Dijon mustard, and bumped up the hot sauce to probably a full teaspoon of Sriracha*, adding a delicious garlicky zing. Last, I mixed in some chopped flat leaf parsley* because that never hurt anything. The result was a cheesy masterpiece. Next time, I will be more conservative with the mustard, but I have no significant complaints. And despite the fact that I cut down on the pasta, I still ate too much. This mac and cheese overload resulted in me taking three or four breaks to lie down, while I washed the dishes. Nonetheless, I’ll probably do the same thing next time.

*See glossary for definitions

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