Getting My Mac On

52 macs in 52 weeks

March 9, 2020
MaryAnne

1 comment

Week 1: Classic Mac

When I first started sharing the idea of this project with people, a common question was “ARE there 52 kinds of mac & cheese?” (OK, maybe it was only my mom.) As my stack of cookbooks, Food Network magazines, and Pinterest page would tell you, that’s not the problem at all, the challenge will be narrowing it down to ONLY 52. I got ideas online, from magazines, my existing cookbooks and the two additional ones I ordered, and even some from just thinking “I bet {eventual spoiler alert} caramelized onions would be a good addition!”

That said, it was a pretty easy decision to start with a classic mac & cheese recipe.  This was going to be my first attempt at cooking while also documenting the process, and if you knew anything about how I operate in the kitchen, you’d know it’s best not to overly complicate things right out of the gate. Chaotic and messy might be too harsh a judgment, but then again, it might not be.

Enter “The Mac and Cheese Cookbook.” I got this for Christmas several years ago. It’s by the women who started Homeroom, a restaurant in California that only serves mac & cheese.  I’ll post a more in-depth review eventually, but for now, the main thing to know is that every recipe starts with the same basic Bechamel sauce, and then the variations come from different cheeses, “add-ins,” toppings, etc.  They also include beer and wine pairings, which is of no use to me. (Now, if they mentioned which flavor of margarita went well with a certain cheese profile, that would be a different story.)

SIDENOTE: Something I’ve learned while researching how to start a food blog is that lists of ingredients can’t be copyrighted but “substantial literary expression” such as descriptions, explanations, and illustrations, can.  So all pictures will be taken by me during the process, and I will share how I do things as I go along, in my own words, rather than how the directions appear in the sources. I’m not out here trying to get sued for plagiarism or copyright infringement. I will also always credit the source if I used one.

So again, this is Classic Mac, adapted from The Mac & Cheese Cookbook, by Allison Arevalo & Erin Wade.

Mac Sauce

Most of the recipes in the cookbook call for 2 cups of this, but their base recipe makes 3, in case, as they say, anyone wants it “saucier.”  I personally think we could all stand to be a little saucier.

Plus, if you have leftovers, the extra sauce is nice to have for the re-heating process when it dries out a little.  Or maybe even to dip bread in? Because obviously what we need with our carbs is more carbs.

I present the ingredients list as it appears in the book – any variations or deviations I make will appear in the notes section at the end.

Yes, that is a disco ball in the background …

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (see notes)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt or 1 tsp. table salt

After boiling and rinsing the noodles (see below), I poured the milk into a pan and heated it over medium heat until little bubbles formed, but not all the way to boiling; then moved it to the “warming zone.” (I love love love my stove – I’ve had it less than two years after having my previous one for more than 20, and having features like a warming zone is amazing!) The recipe said this takes about three minutes, but I found it was more like five.

Next, in a larger pan, I melted the butter, then added the flour and whisked for a few minutes until it was more tan than yellow. Around 3-4 minutes. Then I poured the milk in, about a cup at a time, continuing to whisk, and then remembered I was supposed to take it off the heat for this step. So I did that. Once all the milk was stirred in, it went back on the burner and I continued whisking until it was very smooth, then added the salt.

And THEN – and I can’t emphasize enough what a miracle this was – I actually remembered to remove a cup of the sauce before continuing, because this makes 3 cups, and the recipe only calls for 2.  The first time I made this, I did not remember – I added the cheeses to the full batch, and when it wasn’t AT ALL cheesy, I realized my mistake and had to hurry and grate more cheese and boil more pasta and I ended up with  a VAT of mac & cheese. Not that that’s a bad problem to have, but I was still pretty proud of myself for remembering this very basic step this time.

*Continued below

Classic Mac

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups Mac Sauce
  • 1 ½ cups “2-year aged extra sharp cheddar cheese” (see notes)
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste (see notes)

I actually boiled the pasta before I made the sauce. They recommend cooking it to the al dente stage, probably because it later goes back into the sauce for re-heating, and cooks a little more. I followed the directions on the box and boiled it for seven minutes, and it was a little soft, so next time I would cut it to six minutes. Don’t forget to salt the pasta water! Once it’s done, drain it and rinse with cold water. I let it sit in the colander in the sink while I made the sauce, and give it a stir a couple of times to keep it from getting clumpy or gluey.

*Continued from above: With my TWO cups of mac sauce remaining in the pan, I added the cheeses and stirred until everything was melted and smooth. The final step was to add the pasta back in and stir until all the noodles were coated and everything was heated through. 

RESULTS

I made this on Thursday evening. I started pretty late, and it took, well, longer than I hoped.  Probably close to an hour. Or possibly more, I kind of lost track. But that includes from the time I started setting out ingredients, stopping to take pictures throughout the process, letting Murphy in and out approximately 17 times, to the time I sat down and put the first forkful in my mouth.

It was fine the first night, but it was milder than I expected – I was expecting a stronger flavor from the extra sharp cheddar. I took some to work on Friday and it was actually better re-heated, especially with a little leftover shredded cheddar and Parmesan sprinkled on top.

It made about 5 cups. I measured a cup’s worth into a container and stuck it in the freezer, and put the rest (other than what I ate) in the fridge.  On Friday, I found out that my aunt and uncle were coming to town and my parents invited everyone over for fried chicken, so I offered to bring the ultimate side dish.

I had the leftover sauce, half a box of noodles, and just enough milk left to make one more cup of sauce, so I cut the Mac Sauce recipe into a third, then added it to the leftovers, and had exactly the right amount for a whole new batch. I did forget to reduce the salt, so it was pretty salty, but when combined with the day-before batch, it was fine. I had enough cheddar, but had to use Parmesan instead of Romano.  It came together much faster/easier the second time, so that helped bump up my original rating.

This got me around 8-10 cups total and when 11 people were finished with dinner, there were about 4 noodles left in the bottom of the pan, so I’m pretty sure they liked it, which also factored into the improved rating. On Sunday, I partially thawed the freezer portion then re-heated it in the microwave and again, it was pretty dang good.

RATING: 3.5 noodles out of 5

(My photo editing skills are still a little shaky…)

This should probably be higher, but like Olympic skaters who go first, judges have to leave room for improvement.

Next week’s mac will be … well, I haven’t decided yet, so stay tuned!!!

NOTES

  • Unsalted butter: I don’t buy it, I don’t use it. I’m already a tentative salter, things would be really bland if I started out with unsalted butter. Might as well use Crisco.
  • The authors make a point of saying you don’t need super fancy, expensive, hard-to-find cheeses for their recipes, but their perception of hard-to-find might be skewed by being in the San Francisco/Oakland area where there are just a feeeewww more option.  Even Yoke’s (the fanciest cheese place in the Tri-Cities, we got culture, yo) (sigh, I miss Cheese Louise) let me down and I had to “settle” for 15-month Tillamook.  (When I Googled “cheese tri-cities” the first hit was Chuck E.  CULTURE!)
  • Salt & pepper to taste: Again, I tend to be cautious with seasonings – I’m working on it, but you will probably want to take what I do with several (extra) grains of salt. I despise black pepper, so you will never see me use it.  I don’t think I’ve ever even had a container in my home.

Whew, I know last week I said not all posts would be so long, but it wasn’t like, a PROMISE, or anything. Hopefully, once I get the hang of all this, I will figure out how to be more concise.

Again, no promises.

Posted March 8, 2020

One thought on “Week 1: Classic Mac

  1. Pingback: First Quarter Recap | Getting My Mac On

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