February 4, 2008

A Day In The Kitchen: Dinner

The weather here has been quite screwy. In the past week, it’s been 60 degrees one day and snowing a few days later. In fact, we got nearly a foot of snow on Friday. Yesterday, it poured down rain. Today, it’s 60 degrees again. Even though it’s warm outside, there is still a cover a snow...albeit, a cover of melting snow. Piles of snow are steaming in the heat. Fog drifts through the air.

And weather like that calls for comfort foods. When I need comforting, I turn to hot, creamy, pasta...particularly macaroni & cheese.

The current issue of St. Louis magazine features an article on the “43 places to go for soul-soothing, belly-warming, stick-to-your-ribs goodness.” Mac & cheese makes their list of comfort foods.

Of macaroni & cheese, Martha Stewart claims:

Thomas Jefferson, purportedly a great lover of both cheese and Italian food, brought a macaroni maker back from Italy and served his baked macaroni and cheese at dinner parties.
If you have ever managed to have a lucid thought while eating this gooey, delicious dish, it may have been to wonder how macaroni and cheese -- American cheese melted into a traditional British white sauce served over Italian pasta -- came about. It all started during the age of European colonization, when seafaring men transported dried macarone -- one of the few staples that could survive a year aboard ship -- from Italy to Britain and to the American colonies.

American colonists did not have the selection of fresh produce and other ingredients that the Italians had; their meals were improvised from a larder of fresh or sour milk, stale bread, and pork drippings. So the imported pasta would often be served with a simple white sauce -- milk thickened with flour and butter. Sometimes it was baked in a casserole with buttered breadcrumbs on top. A recipe for a casserole of macaroni, white sauce, and grated yellow cheese was first recorded in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1896.

Kraft introduced its macaroni-and-cheese dinner in 1937 as a way to market processed American cheese and Tenderoni macaroni. It swept the nation. Recipes for homemade macaroni and cheese began to appear frequently in cookbooks.
Nowadays, making delicious homemade macaroni and cheese has become a mission for some people: They are always trying to make it more comforting, cheesier. It's a completely worthwhile way to spend your time.

And that’s how I spent my time this afternoon. In continuing my quest for the perfect mac & cheese recipe, I made a baked version with bechamel sauce.

Macaroni & (3) Cheese(s)
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus more for baking dish)
1 pound medium pasta shells
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
4 cups whole milk
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
4 ounces Havarti cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
4 ounces Muenster cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Butter a shallow 4-quart baking dish (oval or 9-by-13-inch rectangle); set aside.
  • Generously salt boiling water; add pasta. Cook, according to package instructions, until 2 minutes short of al dente. Drain pasta, and return to pot.
  • While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium. Add flour and mustard powder to remaining butter in saucepan. Cook, whisking, 1 minute (do not let flour darken). Whisk in milk. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until sauce is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Remove sauce from heat. Gradually whisk in cheeses; add Worcestershire sauce, and season generously with salt and pepper. Add sauce to pasta, and toss to combine; transfer to prepared baking dish.
  • Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until topping is golden and sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

This is my entry for Meeta’s (of What’s For Lunch Honey?) Monthly Mingle. This month, her theme is "Comfort Foods."


(For the record: I ate the mac & cheese with Ellie Krieger’s Crispy Chicken Fingers, which I first saw on Iron Stef.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy macaroni and cheese. Your addition of three types of cheeses is brilliant!