Homemade Mac and Cheese

Exotic Mac and Cheese has been a trend for some years now. Yet I think that an excellent recipe that is close to the universal vision of the ordinary dish is something we all should have in our repertoire. 

I saw a promising recipe from avante-garde food creationists Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbott on  Tasting Table - an interesting website / email newsletter  (but please keep reading mine, too, OK?). They offered an innovative twist to make M&C - evaporated milk. But the original recipe was a little too rich for me - so I made a few minor modifications. I hope you try it. 

1 pound pasta
-- I recommend Barilla brand. Digitali (shown above) is a great shape for this dish.
1 stick unsalted butter
12 ounce can evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces pepper Jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 
  2. Cook pasta, but stop cooking at 75% of the recommended cooking time. Drain, and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. 
  3. While pasta cooks, add butter, evaporated milk, salt and cayenne in a large saucepan.
  4. When the butter has melted add the cheddar and jack cheeses a little at a time. When incorporated into sauce, add pasta and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.  
  5. Butter a large baking dish. Add mac and cheese mixture. Sprinkle Parmesan and breadcrumbs evenly over top. 
  6. Turn oven to low broil and  place dish on middle rack. Cook until nicely browned. 

My Favorite Dish of 2010

Friends, sorry for the recent slowdown in posts. I've had a vicious sinus infection and have been out of commission. To keep your appetite in check, here's a repeat column, the hands-down favorite dish I made in 2010

This paella was delicious. It sounds very complicated, with such a long list of ingredients. However, all these ingredients are cooked in sequence in the same pan. You don't have to cook parts separately - which is often the case with a complex recipe. So it's not complicated at all.

The keys to this recipe are:

  • Adding the stock in stages
  • Maintaining enough heat to get a little crusty rice on the bottom of the pan
  • Ensuring that the rice is cooked to pleasant doneness (slightly al dente)
In this version of the recipe, the use of rich, authentic Spanish chorizo was also a major factor. It was the kind of chorizo that is cured, like an Italian salami, not loose, like a Mexican chorizo link. Since Spanish chorizo is hard to find (and expensice) you could substitute any chorizo you can find, other sausage or skip it. However, you may have to add or remove oil from the pan depending on your choice. Mexican chorizo will give off too much oil. Skip the sausage and you might need to add some olive oil. 

The aioli can be made in a blender or hand whisked. I've not seen it paired with paella until I read an article about Jose Andres. WOW!! What a great complement to the already complex paella. 

Over the top addition - the aioli already seems over the top, but I had just boned three whole chickens for stock and the paella, so had a lot of chicken skin available. So I made Crispy Chicken Skins with Maple Glaze, sliced them and added them to the paella (after the picture above was taken). Not bad. 

2 garlic cloves, mashed with a small amount of kosher salt
1 egg yolk
4 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup oil
     --- Combine all ingredients up to oil in a large bowl. 
     --- Drizzle oil into bowl, whisking continuously
     --- Chill before serving


For a crowd of 8-10, double this recipe and make it in two separate pans. 
3 cups or more of chicken stock is needed for each batch. 

1/2 of a dried new mexico chile, or equivalent
     --- seed pepper and grind in a spice grinder

     --- Heat a paella pan or large skillet (12-14") over medium-high heat, optionally, over direct heat on a charcoal or gas grill (remove grates if you dare!!). If grilling, add soaked wood chips in a foil packet, pierced in several places with a fork. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large link Spanish Chorizo sausage
     --- Saute 3 minutes for sausage to release some oils
     --- Remove sausage and place in a large bowl

1 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chicken, cut in to 1 inch pieces
     --- Saute 5 minutes, until chicken begins to brown
     --- Remove to a sausage bowl

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, mixed, chopped coarsely
     --- Saute 4-5 minutes
     --- Remove and add to chicken

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
     --- Saute 2-3 minutes

1/2 tablespoon olive oil, if needed
3/4 arborio rice
     --- stir to coat rice, 1 minute

1 cup fresh chicken stock
1/2 of a 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
The dried, ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon saffron, crumbled
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
     --- Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes
     --- Add chicken, mushrooms, sausage and any liquid, simmer 10 minutes
3/4 cups stock
     --- Add and simmer 8 minutes
3/4 cup stock
     --- Add and simmer 8 minutes
1 pound monkfish, cut into 1" slices
     --- Combine into fish, cover and cook 3-5 minutes, until fish cooked through.
     --- Add more stock and continue to cook rice if needed

Some of the rice should stick to the bottom of the pan and form a browned crust. This is what the Spanish call "soffrito" - and is a prized component of paella. 

Batali Menu: Ribeye, Grilled Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts Mushrooms and Pancetta

Here's just a tease, the menu from a great, great meal, with recipes and inspiration from Mario Batali. At this point, I can't even remember whether the signature recipe, porcini crusted ribeye, came from the Babbo Cookbook, or Molto Italiano. I think the former. But it was one of the most incredible steaks I've ever had.

The only downside is a 24-hour marinade / dry rub application. But I did a side-by-side comparison, cooking one steak immediately, and letting one sit for 24 hours. You want to invest that time.

I'll publish my interpretation of Batali's recipe this week, but for now consider this........

Grilled Porcini Dusted Sweet-Spicy Ribeyes
Grilled Rosemary Potatoes
Brussels Sprouts, Crimini Mushrooms and Pancetta

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I rarely prepare (and even more rarely eat) dessert. I prefer a nice glass of aged Caribbean regional rum on ice as a dessert. My favorite brands are Ron Anejo Pampero Aniversario and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusivo, both from Venezuela, and Rhum St. James Hor's d'Age from Martinique. 

In all candor, this 'dessert' is a perfect match for this menu. I highly recommend it. 


Red Beans and Rice

If you also read my column Be A Better Cook, you will have gotten  this recipe as a  bonus a couple weeks ago.  I described it as "hard to sell to a newcomer (or teenager)" if they've never seen Red Beans and Rice before. It's not really an attractive dish. So no photo.

But boy are good red beans and rice delicious and this is a good recipe. Easy to make. Fast too. With a multi-layered spice and herbiness that can't be beat. Even the sausage is cooked two ways to create multiple textures.

Classic Red Beans and Rice
Serves at least 8 hearty eaters

1 pound kidney beans, covered with water, soaked overnight
1 pound andouille or other smoked sausage, such as kielbasa
  -- The Texas-style sausages from Chappell Hill, Holmes, Meyer and other hill country purveyors are excellent for this dish.
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, including leaves if you have them, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 cups liquid, at least 2 cups being fresh shrimp or chicken stock the rest filtered water
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon tabasco sauce
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I had to buy some just for this recipe - never, ever substitute this for real garlic)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (another pretty rare ingredient)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups cooked rice

  1. Slice sausage lengthwise, then cut into 1/4" thick slices (so each piece is a half-moon)
  2. Combine all ingredients except half of the sausage. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 1.5 hours. 
  3. Uncover and simmer for another hour. 
  4. Remove 1 cup of beans, returning any sausage pieces to the pot. Mash the beans until they make a paste. I use an unusual but handy tool called a dough cutter, which has five or six semi-sharp edges. It's a secret weapon in my kitchen used for biscuit dough, guacamole, mashed potatoes and mashing red beans. You can also use the back of a spoon to mash, but it takes longer. 
  5. Return the mashed beans to the pot, add the sausage and simmer for 5 minutes.Serve over rice. 

Rosemary Salt Update


My 'concern' about mashing these ingredients through a sieve, and even my unstated lack of interest in the use of a mortal and pestle was in the end, justified. I made a bigger batch of this salt two nights ago and quickly determined that using a spice grinder collapses two cumbersome manual steps into one simple step. Since Jamie Oliver didn't give specific proportions on the amount of lemon, here is my recommendation for the recipe: 

Combine 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tablspoons sea salt, the zest of one medium lemon. Add to a spice grinder, until finely ground. Refrigerate and use for up to two months. 

Original Post: 

I was skeptical about this little salt concoction, even though it came from Jamie Oliver. I thought the final instruction "mash this through a sieve" didn't sound reasonable.

But, I used the rosemary salt on oven fries (technique and proportions also from JO), and it was incredible. So good, that my13 year old son, the pickiest eater in the house, requested more of "that fancy salt" - unprovoked, unprompted, unsolicited, even unsolicitated. This never happens in my house.

The recipe concept:
- Equal parts rosemary, chopped and Sea Salt.
- Add lemon jest
- Mash with a mortal and pestle, or the back of a fork.
- Press through a sieve / strainer (which makes it into a very fine grain salt).
- Sprinkle on oven fries (or anything - it's remarkably good).

You can find the original recipe, along with the oven fry technique in Jamie' Dinners: The Essential Family cookbook. Careful, though. There are some things I'm a little leery about in this cookbook. Simply put, it's not really for beginners, I think. But I could be wrong. I'm planning an article / review of this book after I make a few more things from it.

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