Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mac & Cheese... Please!

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Cook's Illustrated (left) vs Martha Stewart (right)

With fall just around the corner, one of my favorite comfort foods is mac & cheese. Let's face it, buttery pasta combined with creamy cheese... what's not to love? So you can imagine my excitement when my friend Maria, invited me over to a Mac & Cheese dinner tasting. Mmm...

Maria

"Since I started cooking when I was super young I've always been attracted to food pairing. I would try to cater to my parents taste in order to try cool recipes. I just love eating, preparing, and serving well thought out food pairs and am constantly seeking out more information all the time. I love food and am always welcome to be part of the process of developing and refining. It's the only way to get the best results of better recipes!"

Maria lives in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. She recently joined What's Cookin, Chicago in June 2009. "So far I really enjoyed the two events I've gone to. I also recently tried a new recipe for banana coconut muffins, thanks to Joelen's website. It wowed my office and my boyfriend's office since I made it for both."

If you love cheese, you will need to check out Maria's new blog! She recently started a blog, Cheese Affair, so stay tuned as she begins to dive into a world of cheese. Maria's got about 2 months worth of information to share so be sure to check back to her blog often.

So for tonight, Maria prepared 2 different kinds of Mac & Cheese along with a side of asparagus.

Perfect Macaroni & Cheese
recipe by Martha Stewart

You can easily divide this recipe in half; use a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish if you do.
Serves 12
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
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
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni
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 over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the 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 over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 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 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until 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 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
First Published: February 1999


Classic Macaroni & Cheese
recipe from Cook's Illustrated

Bread Crumb Topping:
6 slices white sandwich bread (good-quality, about 6 ounces), torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces
Pasta and Cheese:
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons powdered mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese , shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (2 cups)
1 teaspoon table salt


1. For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread and butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside. (Maria opted to use the same recipe/process for breadcrumbs as seen in Martha Stewart's recipe above.)

2. For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.
3. In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
4. Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9 by 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.

Martha Stewart vs. Cook's Illustrated...
So how did the two recipes compare?

Martha Stewart - this recipe with sharp white cheddar and gruyere (or romano) definitely had more of a cheesy bite, in part of the cheddar used. You'll notice that the recipe calls for making a standard bechamel sauce (roux + milk) in which the cheeses are stirred in until melted. The result is a delicious mac & cheese with lots of flavor. The texture wasn't super creamy but it definitely held it's own. I would guess this makes for a great mac & cheese to enjoy the following day and may even have a more pronounced flavor as it sits. If you're all about a sharp, tangy cheesy flavor, this is a recipe I definitely recommend.

Cook's Illustrated - this recipe may have looked pretty identical to Martha Stewart's but you can definitely taste the difference. Cook's Illustrated calls for monterey jack and white cheddar cheese. Monterey jack cheese is known for it's melting qualities because it doesn't separate like cheddar. The white cheddar adds the cheesy flavor we all are familiar with in a standard recipe. Together they provide a delicate texture, reminiscent of comforting mac & cheese. This version of mac & cheese would be exceptionally good if you have leftovers and want to make mac & cheese bites. As it cools, the texture holds itself well, making it easy to cut, coat with breading and fry... and when bitten into, you've got a crispy outside and a creamy, cheesy inside. If you're all about texture and like it creamy with a subtle hint of tang, this is a recipe I definitely recommend.

Overall, these recipes are great and it all depends on what you enjoy more - flavor or texture. The type of cheese used when making mac & cheese is especially important because various cheeses adds specific characteristics in the final product. So which one would you prefer?!

To end on a sweet note, Maria prepared this decadently delicious Blueberry White Chocolate Coffee Cake. I'm patiently awaiting the recipe, which I hope to make soon! Stay tuned, as I'll include a recipe link when I get it!

Blueberry White Chocolate Coffee Cake

A special thanks to Maria for being a gracious hostess and creating some delicious mac & cheese recipes for us enjoy. Don't forget to check out her blog soon as she begins to share her love of cheese with the world!

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