Tonight’s dinner post is brought to you by a satisfied home cook, recalling all the “little of this, and little of that” which went into her pots and pans (and all over the stove top and counter, to be entirely honest) and is now live on this digital record to be enjoyed by you all.
Although I was tempted to finish off the second half of my afternoon large chocolate chip cookie from Appleton Cafe – one of my frequented study spots, procured earlier in the afternoon after I had parked myself in the same spot from which I enjoyed lunch, and didn’t move until they were about to close- I felt guilty (yesterday I had skipped dinner altogether until I was too hungry at 11 pm and B cheerfully made me a sandwich out of very few things when he got home from work). Seeing as how last night there wasn’t much to work with at home in the way of meal-worthy food, I opened the pantry, and decided to attempt this for the first time.
I was inspired by The Smith restaurant’s recipe in East Village, NYC, which basically just helped me to confirm the ingredients that I could put in, but would not since I likely didn’t have them.
I boiled about 12 ounces of shells (which are known as macaroni in other languages, ’tis true, but yes, technically these are shells and cheese, I admit it). Once those were done and drained, I set them aside.
Now, to make the blonde roux (the cheesy sauce)…
Here’s where I made significant departures from the recipe I noted above. I used neither heavy cream nor whole milk, used less butter per volume, and used whole wheat (get ’em whole grains!)
– I had a couple of tablespoons of Annie’s Organic cheese for a boxed mac and cheese left, so I threw those in.
– 1/2 cup of fat free milk
– 3 tablespoons of butter
– 5 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
– 3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour *add this LAST*
-the cheese that I had in my cheese drawer: namely, 3 tablespoons goat cheese; ~3 teaspoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese; 3 ounces of Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar (which is a delightful blend of sharp cheddar and parmesan), crumbled.
All of the sauce shenanigans took about 10-15 minutes, including pulling things out to use. I whisked all this together over medium heat in a saucepan, stirring frequently while the mixture thickened. Almost as soon as the flour goes in, be ready to turn the heat on low and whip that pot off of the heat, lest it may burn. It thickens surprisingly quickly!
Pour the drained pasta into the cast iron pan, separating any clusters of pasta. Pour in the sauce that you just made. Then, sprinkle freshly ground sea salt, a few dashes of nutmeg, and freshly ground pepper on top. Also, add about an 1/8 of a cup of milk in after everything else is in the cast iron pan so that there is just a little bit of liquid around the edges.
Add some breadcrumbs on top – I used what I had and rarely have need to use, which is Trader Joe’s Organic bread crumb bag. I also sprinkled a little bit of powdered parmesan (the kind you throw on spaghetti and meatballs as a last thought, so as not to leave cheese out entirely from the pasta party).
That’s it! 400F for 25 min. Watch it bubble until the timer goes off. It is rather therapeutic. I channeled an imagined childhood activity and sat on the floor in front of the oven, enjoying the warmth and the smells.
Out of courtesy, I won’t share a photo of my bowl, scooped clean with nary a cheesy shell or breadcrumb left, as proving a point is not worth letting out one’s dirty dishes. But, just sayin’ – the bowl is empty yet a third time 🙂
I have honestly not really enjoyed baked mac and cheese before. Every time I go to a restaurant and see someone ordering it in a cast iron pan, sizzling and bubbling with melted cheese, I just want to eat it. Sometimes, I give in and I’m often less satisfied bordering on disappointed because 1) it’s TOO MUCH FOOD! 2) I eat way more than a normal person should – just make the portions smaller, restaurants! 3) it is waaaaay too creamy 4) it’s often too salty 5) it’s usually either too chunky and thick or too liquidy.
How I know that this is a good recipe by my standards is that the combination of cheeses in the roux here were not stringy, not very salty, and not liquidy. The breadcrumbs were not soggy, but added a light and pleasant crunchy texture. Somehow, I got the ratio right by eyeballing it (phew…) and – the best part is- I ended up with something light enough that I could eat half a pan of in one sitting (not even hungrily) and not feel the worse for it. I did have to stop myself: the gentleman pictured below would probably be sad if I hadn’t.
Try it out and let me know what you think! I hope you enjoy it 🙂