Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Macaroni and Cheese

, I admitted my weakness for Velveeta Shells and Cheese (with bits of “real bacon”). Despite this torrid little relationship, I maintain a strong and healthy affection for the homemade kind featured in today’s New York Times, the kind with the crusty top that you make in the oven in a big dish. I’m sure the New York Times recipes are nice and all, but the Raisinhater family has been celebrating Christmas Day with macaroni and cheese for a really long time, and Dad Raisinhater is a bit of an expert.

Dad Raisinhater’s recipe, from James Beard (Beard on Pasta, 1983).

This recipe produces a gooey and rich dish using a base of béchamel and a ton of sharp, flavorful cheddar. The cheese on top should be burnt and chewy. If you’re the cook, it’s perfectly acceptable exercise your “chef’s privilege” – just pull the crispy bits off and eat them before sending it out to the other diners.

4 T butter
4 T flour
2 c milk
1 dash black pepper
½ tsp Tabasco, or more to taste (we use Sriracha)
½ c heavy cream or crème fraiche
¾ lb grated cheddar
½ lb macaroni elbows or, for more fun, double elbows

Preheat oven at 350 F. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add
flour, stir with a wooden spoon for 3 minutes or until roux is frothy &
taste of raw flour is gone. Heat the milk in another pan and gradually stir warm milk into roux, stirring hard all the while.

Turn up heat, stir until sauce is just at boiling point. Turn down heat, let simmer
a few minutes. Add pepper & Tabasco (“don’t be afraid of the Tabasco it will help to bring out the taste of the cheese”) Stir in heavy cream & simmer a little longer until flavors are blended. Cook and drain the macaroni. Stir 3/4s of the cheese into the simmering sauce until melted. Combine sauce with macaroni, pour into baking pan and sprinkle with remaining cheese, bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until bubbly & light golden. Serves 4.

The New York Times also reviewed a number of boxed and frozen brands. In the interest of science, I decided to see how their reviews measured up.
For lunch, I had Whole Foods 365 Organic Macaroni and Cheese (frozen). This mac and cheese heats up quickly in the microwave and a serving (the whole box) has only 321 calories.

New York Times: “like the other frozen brands, the frozen Organic noodles were softer and soggier than the ones you cook yourself (if you don’t overcook them, that is), but the sauce was creamier, if, in this case, a bit pasty.”

MeBeth: Dear New York Times, get over yourselves, we know how to cook our pasta thankyouverymuch. Al dente snobbery is so 1985. My Organic noodles were firm and relatively chewy for a microwavable frozen box meal. The cheese was mild (so mild, in fact, that I added a bit of Sriracha to spice mine up) but is creamy and has a rich consistency without tasting gluey. 365 Organic makes no pretense of a crispy topping, but does firm up into a casserole-like consistency when allowed to cool for two minutes after microwaving, although the cheese did develop a slightly grainy consistency. One drawback – this mac and cheese didn’t have the decadent feel. Maybe it was the package size, maybe because I knew it was organic? Either way, it was a delicious lunch, but not sufficient for a full on dinner-size mac and cheese craving.

For dinner, I had Velveeta Shells and Cheese with bits of bacon. One box allegedly contains 2.5 servings (at 360 calories per serving) but really, that is just crap. One box = one serving, best eaten by solo diners in pajamas while watching trashy television.

New York Times: Velveeta Shells and Cheese was one of the least appealing mac and cheeses sampled. “Velveeta, with its characteristic pouch of squishy cheese, was like pouring Cheez Whiz or, well, Velveeta, on pasta. But, if you could get past the slightly sour and harsh flavor of the goop, you might be able to enjoy the satiny texture.”

MeBeth: Wrong. All wrong. First of all, you wouldn’t have that sour/harsh flavor problem if you bought the kind with “real bacon pieces.” Second, pouring Cheez Whiz on pasta is exactly the point of store bought macaroni and cheese.

It should remind you of coming home from the college bars at 2am and gathering around with your roommates to rehash the night over hangover-preventing bowls of the stuff. (Constrained by poverty, we sometimes made ours with noodles and regular Kraft singles). It should taste not exactly cheesy, but more sharp and Yellow, somehow. I ate the whole box for dinner and it was scrumptious (in that gross, artificial flavor kind of way). It gets gluey in about 30 seconds, so eat fast. For me – it’s comfort in a bowl.


Blogger s'kat said...

I love me some homemade mac'n'cheese, but have admittedly never even once tried the infamous blue box. Quite frankly, it just scares me.

DucCat is a huge fan of Stouffer's frozen mac'n'cheese.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

Ha, as soon as I got to work today I had about 3 people shoving the article and the picture in my face.. It's sitting right here next to me. Glad you gave it a whirl!

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hahaha, I have to admit that while i once relished the times that I was given mac'n'cheese as a kid upon my revisiting of the food in college i found myself thoroughly disappointed. As a result I am no longer a mac'n'cheese eater - but i pretend the college event didnt happen so that my childhood memory can continue to exist, untainted in my brain. ... To my point: I have heard wonders of the "brick of mac'n'cheese" at this place and thought you might enjoy it: MoPikin's at Ave. A btwn 2nd & 3rd.... let me know how it is. I have the cravings now and then but fear another disaster....

4:30 PM  
Blogger Jeff in NC said...

Grwoing up, I was a HUGE fan of Kraft mac & cheese. As a kid, I could put one macaroni on each fork tine. It had a big "play with your food" factor, which annoyed my mother, which made it more fun :)

9:54 PM  

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