Macaroni and Cheese Nirvana

Posted on October 27, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I hit upon the world’s best macaroni and cheese by accident in the kitchen last week and I wanted to get the sort of thrown-together recipe down before it escapes my mind, so here you go:

(When I made casserole-type dishes, I always make a ton because it seems like a waste of time NOT to do so. Consequently, this recipe made two huge casserole dishes and two small one-serving pans of mac-n-cheese. I put one casserole in the freezer, gave the two one-serving pans to a friend and we dined on the other casserole two nights in a row.)

This recipe calls for much activity at once. I browned ground beef (am going to use lobster next time) while boiling pasta while making the béchamel while ALSO grating cheese. I managed to dirty eleventy dishes in the process and the kitchen was a disaster. The resulting mac-n-cheese was totally worth it. If you don’t need to make a ton, just half or third the recipe.

2 lbs (2 boxes) pasta–we chose shells (will use whole grain next time)
1 1/2 – 2 lbs ground beef–we use organic
1 lb cheddar cheese–block, not pre-grated
couple tbsp parmesan cheese
1 1/2 c panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp olive oil–goes in the pasta while boiling
1/2 stick butter
1 c ap flour
tiny sprinkle nutmeg
1/2 to 1 tsp chili sauce–like Sriracha
1 c milk/half-and-half mixture–I use fat-free milk and a T or two half-and-half
4 c low fat, low sod chicken broth

I think what made this dish so rich is the use of chicken broth instead of all milk in the béchamel. SO. Brown the ground beef and drain grease. Use a large pot to boil pasta because you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end, too. Add olive oil to the water, as well as a bit of salt, and boil the pasta to al dente. Preheat oven to 350.

Grate cheese (I used a food processor. Otherwise this would have taken forever.) Pre-grated cheese is coated, I think, in some sort of preservative that alters the flavor of the cheese and I hate that far more than I hate grating cheese.

Make your béchamel: melt butter in a large saucepan over a burner set to medium heat. Add flour and stir to incorporate. Keep a close eye on the paste and stir frequently. You must get the color of your roux to a light brown without burning it (but honestly, I have never burned it–it must be hard to burn). Once you’ve gotten the roux to the color you’d like (it’s to remove that flour taste), pour your liquids into the pan while whisking or stirring briskly. The contents of the pan will lump up immediately, but will smooth back out again with stirring. Keep burner on medium heat and stir frequently while you wait for béchamel to thicken.

When sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, add a tiny sprinkle of nutmeg and the chili sauce (add more if you love it!) Stir to incorporate and add salt and pepper to taste (don’t over salt because the ground beef makes the dish saltier, too). Add cheese and stir to incorporate. You should still have a smooth sauce at this point.

Add everything to the large pot you used for the pasta. Stir to blend and divide between casserole dishes. Because the dish is inherently greasy, there is no need to pre-grease the dishes. Top with a sprinkling of panko and bake for 25-30 min until bubbly.

I am telling you, the chicken broth makes this dish.

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