Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mac and Cheese

November 2007

Ok folks. Cheese lovers, rejoice. Lactose intolerant folks, I apologize in advance. Last night it was Macaroni and Cheese on the table at our house. This I have been researching for far longer than I care to admit. Like many comfort foods (don’t even ask me about the stack of my Chicken Pot Pie recipes), there are more Macaroni and Cheese recipes out there than, well, than there ought to be. Fortunately, I found a link somewhere to a Moskin article in the New York Times, and as such I am spared the writing of any sort of rant about goofy Macaroni and Cheese recipes because she has done it for me and done it well. Macaroni and Cheese in my world is judged by one gold standard alone: my Great Aunt Susie’s Macaroni and Cheese.

Aunt Sue’s culinary knockouts are many in number and wide in breadth; she makes the cookies that make it Christmas in my world, she makes the only Pimiento Cheese that is not only not gross but totally amazing, her relish is to die for, her cake clearly reigned at the family bakeoff in which far too many of us took our hand to the secret Anchrom Cake recipe that our family hoards (twelve chocolate cakes all in the same place sounds great until you eat your first piece and then you find yourself wondering if Granny made a pie this year…), she does this thing with lima beans that will make your eyes roll backwards in your head – the list continues. But for me, it’s all about her Macaroni and Cheese, and frankly it’s always been about her Macaroni and Cheese; I think the only time she didn’t make it for the family reunion she actually apologized to me. Although I have never talked shop with her about her recipe for this dish – actually, not true, but when I asked her she just waved her hand, thus wafting cigarette smoke mysteriously around her head and said, “Oh honey, it’s just a bunch of macaronis and cheese with a little pepper” – I would bet my bippy that it doesn’t have anything to do with a rue and I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t have any bizarre toppings or stinky cheeses in it. It is just noodles. And cheese. It’s chunky. She’s generous with the pepper. Everyone knows that the edges are the best part.

So upon reading Ms. Moskin’s article, I was all about the easy peasy super cheesy recipe she offers. I was so not disappointed. It’s not only extremely easy to make (seriously, if you grate the cheese into a big bowl, you can get away with one dirty bowl and one dirty food processor), but more importantly, it was everything I was looking for. The edges did the crunchy brown thing. The bottom and sides did their own browning thing that cheese does when it’s baked but not exposed. The middle was rich, with good texture, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. The only thing: More pepper.

Macaroni and Cheese
From the New York Times

2 tablespoons butter*
1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)
2 cups milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt (I would reduce this to 1/4 next time)
As much black pepper as you like, no less than 1/4 of a teaspoon
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan (note: I baked mine in a 9 x 13 inch pan and the world did not end, whoops, strike that, the pan I used was 8 x 11).

2. In a blender (I prefer my food processor), purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve 1/4 cup grated cheese for topping (more if you are going with a slightly larger pan). In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

3. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter (*Note: this step seems totally unnecessary and although I did it this time because I am turning over a new leaf of Following the Recipe Before I Fiddle With It I won’t do it next time). Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving. You should really eat your vegetables with this.

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