Monday, December 31, 2012

mac & cheese



(If you're a Friends fan, like me, the first thing you think of when you read this title is the episode where Joey becomes the star of a TV series, "Mac & Cheese.")

I made this as my great caloric send-off to 2012 and welcome to 2013.

Yesterday was one of those lovely quiet post-Christmas days: woke-up, enjoyed a mug of coffee, had a nice long phone visit with my older sister and took the pup for a walk. We have been lucky to have cool weather (well, cool for So Cal) during the holidays this year. It has made all the difference for me. When it is cool and I need to bundle up, everything just feels more like the holidays. Yesterday, as we walked around the neighborhood, dark grey skies were moving in from the southwest and the rain was just beginning to sputter. The neighborhood was also full of after Christmas sights: a Dad teaching his young son to ride a new bike (my hunch is it was a present) and I spotted three houses with the garage doors thrown open, music blaring on some old cassette player and garage contents in various stages of organization (with more than a few things piled up at the curb.) It was a nice brisk walk and I was reminded how glad I am to live in a town where I can walk my dog down main street and everyone stops to say hello (people love dachshunds.) Harriet even met a very nice old black lab (his gray chin gave away his age).

My sister and I talked yesterday of how we use the days leading up to the New Year to piece together thoughts about our year and how we're really doing. I have spent a little time each morning writing, reading, mulling and it is helping me have peace on 2012 and put together goals for 2013. (Speaking of goals, Elise's blog has a great post on how she picks one word to theme the new year. I very much like this idea. If you're interested, read it here.)

In the midst of all this reflection and relaxation, I decided I wanted to make a big dish of macaroni and cheese to celebrate 2013. The recipe is Ina Garten's. It is pretty easily assembled and while it does require purchasing a small fortune in cheese, the recipe is the perfect balance of nutty gruyere and zingy  cheddar and the indulgence of homemade mac and cheese will keep us fed all through New Years day.

I wish you and yours a very happy New Year!

mac & cheese

kosher salt
vegetable oil
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk (my sister mentioned to me this dish can be a bit dry to reheat. Therefore, I add an extra cup of milk here for a total of 5 cups. I prefer my mac and cheese on the saucy side, but if you do not, please feel free to stick with the recipe and only use 4 cups.)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2) Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

3) Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. (At this step, do not add all the milk at once. Add a little, whisk to incorporate, add a little more, whisk to incorporate, etc. until all the milk has been added. This will help eliminate the possibility of lumps in the sauce and keep it smooth and thick.)

4) Off the heat, add the gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt (yeah, I added about half that much), pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3 quart baking dish.

5) Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. (Per my husbands request, I do not add the bread crumb/butter mixture. But the tomatoes do make the dish. From the pictures you can see I used small tomatoes. Next time I will be sure to use more tomatoes. I sprinkled a big of salt and pepper directly on each tomato slice before baking.)

6) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Ina's note: to make ahead, put the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Put the tomatoes and bread crumbs on top and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes.



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