Friday, January 23, 2009

A comfort food night

It's funny how our palates change as we age. When I was a kid and all my friends were eating bland, tasteless Kraft Dinner, or equally bad knock-offs of it, my mom was making the real deal for my dad, my sister and me. Macaroni and cheese with homemade white sauce, fresh cooked pasta, and real Cheddar. I recall not liking it that much. That's not a slight on my mom's recipe - looking back I know that now I'd be devouring it by the bowlful, but as a kid the flavours were too intense for me. The same way I drowned perfectly grilled steaks with ketchup back then, I didn't appreciate the sharp tang of the Cheddar or the creamy, smooth bechamel.

But, as I said, things change. Tonight I made a very simple, but perfectly delicious, macaroni and cheese from ingredients I had on hand. A chunk of old Cheddar - very old, I'm not entirely sure how long it's been in my fridge - grated into a velvety white sauce of butter, flour, milk and leftover chicken stock, stirred into a pan with al dente macaroni and topped with freshly-made breadcrumbs from a stale hunk of sourdough-flax bread, rendered golden brown and crispy after a few minutes under the broiler.

For a recipe with a scant seven ingredients (not including salt and pepper) I can't imagine anything more delectable, more comforting on a cold January night. How is it I used to hate this stuff?!

Real-Deal Macaroni And Cheese

Serves 2

1 1/3 cups elbow macaroni
Fist-sized hunk of stale bread, spun through food processor to make coarse breadcrumbs
2 tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup 2 % milk
3/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1.5 cups grated old Cheddar cheese
3 tbsp butter

Cook macaroni in well-salted water (you should be able to slightly taste the salt) until al dente, about 11 minutes.

As the macaroni is cooking, rip bread into chunks and whiz in food processor to make course breadcrumbs. Depending on how much of a crust you like, you'll need anywhere from 1/2 cup to a full cup. Mix a tablespoon of softened butter in with the crumbs and set aside.

Melt another 2 tbsp butter in large saucepan. Add flour and whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes to make a roux. When flour is incorporated into butter and it starts to turn light golden in colour slowly whisk in the milk and the broth. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil and let it thicken slightly. This should take anywhere from 5-7 minutes. Once sauce is slightly thickened, remove from heat and stir in the grated Cheddar with a wooden spoon until it's melted.

Preheat broiler and mix cooked macaroni into sauce. Check the flavours and add salt and pepper as desired. Pour mixture into broilerproof 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs over top and place under broiler until the crumbs turn golden brown, which should only take a few minutes. Watch this process carefully as the crumbs will go from brown to black quickly.

Inspired by a Bon Appetit recipe, but tweaked to my own personal taste.

If you wanted to make this a healthier dinner you could serve it with a green salad, but I have to confess, the only thing I had with my mac and cheese was a big glass of red wine. Heaven.



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