Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Comfort Food --- Macaroni and Three Cheeses

This is one of my favorite all time dishes. When I was a kid the first week we got the Indian Commodities always meant Macaroni and Government Cheese. All you can eat babies. This was inspired by a Question of the Day over at Shake's Place written by the litbrit about favorite comment threads that have been provoked there. One of the better threads was about Comfort Foods. I've been downcast and mopey a bit lately. Some of it's my normal gloomy take on human nature, some of it's probably depression. The President gleefully signed the Torture Bill into law and I wonder where the hell that will lead us. I can't imagine anywhere good.

But enough of that. This is about comfort food. I should find comfort in knowing that I'm not a half-breed kid on the rez anymore. We don't live from gig to gig, handout to handout anymore. Still something like Macaroni and Cheese brings me back to good things. You can do this with any cheese that takes your fancy. Since I am in a whole other tax bracket from Government Cheese I will tell you what I use.

All ingredient amounts are relative. You can play with this one all you want. But like everything else, the better the ingredients the better stuff you'll end up with.

So pick your cheeses and away we go.

1 pound sharp (or even extra sharp) cheddar cheese
1 pound Swiss or Jarlsburg (Dublin cheese if you can get it is good here too)
1 good wedge Parmesiano Reggiano
1/4 cup butter (1 stick)
Bread Crumbs
Seasoning meat (optional)

Elbow macaroni (or any pasta that will hold sauce well like rigatoni or zitti)

Boil the pasta in a shitload of heavily salted water until al dente, drain and set aside.

Grate the cheddar and swiss cheese, separate each cheese into halves. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. When it's completely melted add the flour (a cupped handfull of flour for me works out to a little more than a 1/4 cup) and whisk well. Cook the roux (that's what you just made flour+fat=roux) about two minutes. You want to cook out the pasty flour taste, but you don't want to toast it brown or anything radical. Add salt and pepper to taste (if you're using a ham or sausage for a seasoning meat you can hold off on the salt). Now splash in the milk. You want to get a fairly thin base sauce here, as you cook it more, it will thicken. When the sauce is just below bubbling start adding in the grated cheeses. Whisking away and making sure not to scorch anything. You should in a very short time end up with a wonderfully glossy, cheese sauce.

One of my favorite seasoning meats to use is andouille sausage. When I was a kid it was the canned ham that always came with the boxes of food from the government. Ham Hocks, Polish Sausage, anything your heart desires will do here. This is about comfort food. Please yourself. To use andouille, I slice and slightly brown it, draining well on paper towel.

Now the pasta, sauce, and meat all go into a big oven safe bowl or casserole dish. Add about 2/3's of the remaining grated cheeses and stir through so that there are threads of pure cheese mixed well through the dish. With the remaining grated cheese, bread crumbs (seasoned or not doesn't matter) and some fresh grated parmesiano spead over the top of the dish. This will make that heavenly, cheese crust.

Bake at 350° for an hour or so, until the cheese crust is nice and brown. Your house will smell great. Your kids will pick up their rooms before dinner. Serve with garlic bread and a green salad.

That's a little bit of comfort from El Rancho Harpo (i feel better already)

crossposted at bigbrassblog


Blogger JackGoff said...

Close to my recipe. I use chedar, swiss, monteray jack, and asiago as a topping. But, rOxxOr.

Anyway, I have to go tend bluemeanie...she's really fucking sick, and I'm trying to figure out some comfort food that won't make her sicker...she's got a fever, and she can't keep food down (at this point, even some vegetable soup makes her yak.) I'm not sure what the problem is, but if it continues, we're going to the doctor tomorrow...:-(

10:14 PM  
Blogger BadTux said...

Being a cheap penguin, mine is somewhat simpler:

1 box Macaroni and Cheese (get the Kraft, not the el-cheapo store brand)
1 cup grated chedder
1 can of Spam(tm) luncheon meat.

Make the Macaroni and Cheese according to instructions on box. Use real butter, not margarine. Turns out real butter isn't any worse for you than margarine, go figure, and tastes a whole lot better. Dice the Spam into fairly small pieces, and toss in with the cheese when you're doing the final mix. Serve.

Works best with a pack of Boy Scouts around a campfire after a long day of hiking. They will swear up and down that it's the best meal they ever had. There will be no leftovers.

For a variation, instead of the Spam and the cheese, add a can of Cream of Mushroom soup and a can of tuna. Voila. Instant Tuna Cassarole. Said Boy Scouts will once again jump upon it like a pack of wolves.

And of course there is the traditional dorm food of everywhere, Chili Mac, but I never liked that so I will not go there.

- Badtux the "Okay, so I'm not a mac'n'cheese gourmet" Penguin

10:46 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

this isn't a hiking or camping food. but given that context i would have to say there's nothing at all wrong with your take on it tux. all of these ingredients would be impossible to pack on a motorcycle to boot.

jack: i hope blue meanie comes around soon too. see if there's some kind of fluid she can keep down (mint tea, honey stuff like that) we can survive weeks without food, but not very many days at all without water. add in nausea and dehydration can become dangerous very quickly. keep me posted.

12:57 AM  
Blogger andi said...

i am having distinctly unholy thoughts about your mac and cheese. my husband would be somewhat disturbed.

here in the south, the trad is to use layers of macaroni, crushed crackers (ritz actually does work best), the sharpest, best cheddar cheese you can find and a tad of monterey to help it melt better, and a bit of milk in the bottom to glue it all together. one of my friends adds two eggs. i think she's trying to kill her husband.

how do the swiss and cheddars work together? i would have thought the cheddar would overpower the swiss.

oh, hey - i could just try it, you know, and find out for myself.

6:18 AM  
Blogger pissed off patricia said...

Yours sounds great but for my comfort I need mashed potatoes with chicken or beef gravy. No tricks to making that and I just love it.

7:48 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

this was merely one of the most powerful comfort associations i have with a food. i would rather attack people's religions than cast any aspersions on the "correct" way to make something like a mac n cheese. i have had the southern versions and they are good, they just don't grab at my memory the way this does.

mashed potatoes, good gravy comfort indeed PoP.

10:06 AM  
Blogger BadTux said...

One thing I should note is that when I do this off a motorcycle or when backpacking, I substitute olive oil for the butter (it travels better and gives an interesting flavor, use the 'regular' olive oil, not the 'extra virgin'), and use water and dry milk for the milk. For the cheese, a very dry Monterrey Jack will keep for several days without refrigeration as long as the temperature is below 75F or so (above that it tends to liquify and become very disgusting). Spam is Spam, of course. It'll carry anywhere/everywhere. I think Spam would survive a nuclear blast.

I typically do not eat freeze-dried "camping" food when hiking or camping, especially if I have my motorcycle nearby and thus have access to its fuel and paniers (I have a camp stove that'll run off normal unleaded gasoline) for cooking things like rice pilaf with Spam or couscous with hard salami or tuna and ramen (a favorite for backpacking especially, due to the new foil-pouched tuna). Life is too short to bolt down nasty-tasting "food" items. I think the only people who can tolerate the freeze-dried crap are the same people who buy Totino's Party Pizza...

1:01 PM  
Blogger JackGoff said...

Hey, thanks for the advice, MB. We ended up going to the doctor today, and it turns out she probably got some e coli poisoning from some fruit. We buy at a local farmer's market a lot, and there is a problem if you don't wash the fruit really well.

Basically, all we can do is wait it out for the next week, and she should be getting better. They don't prescribe antibiotics, which I thought was weird, but the doc said it should pass in about a week. I went and bought some mint tea like you said, and the doctor told us to have her drink something like Gatorade for electrolytes. We'll just see how it goes.

4:20 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

peppermint tea with a little honey is a great thing for keeping down. also it works very well if made triple strength, chilled, then served over ice chips. stash® makes a great ginger spice tea that is also tummy safe. honey is mainlined nutrition, even if you barf it you will have absorbed some nutrients through your mouth.

the reason (this is from my sister the nurse) they don't give antibiotics for e coli is that we have active e coli bacteria in our intestines that are essential to the digestive process. antiboitics can't be targeted so you would be killing too many of the critters you need to live along with the few bad guys that are loose off the reservation. tell bluemeanie i hope she feels better soon. give her a book to read, fluids to drink and for god's sake let her have complete control of the remote for a week.

4:39 PM  
Blogger JackGoff said...

Oh, she's already got that. I'm not a big TV fan, and normally homework for me takes hours.

I also bought some honey, and she's been able to keep down some Celestial Seasonings Tummy Mint stuff with a little honey. :)

5:12 PM  

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