Mac and Cheese: The Next Level
By simply using the words “comfort foods”, you have got yourself a whole conversation when in a group of friends. It’s meaning is as wide and as varied as we are.
One common comfort foods may be pasta. That old familiar “blue box” macaroni and cheese may have been one of the first things you were allowed to cook by yourself. Even the most poor college student could rummage through the couch to find enough to afford a meal to make it through one more cram session. As adults with children of our own we may even still reach for our powered packet friend from time to time. But mac and cheese doesn’t have to be a last resort and we can even ditch the blue box, at least for the moment.
Once the pasta is boiled and drained the real corner stone of any great cheese sauce it the roux. Roux is not just for the great kitchen chefs behind sparkling sliver doors. It’s for you too, I promise.
While it’s binding abilities may seem a bit mystifying it’s really not magic. If you can understand a one to one ratio you’ve got it! When making a roux you need equal parts of fat to dry. The trick is equal parts by weight not by volume(Thanks, dad!). So that means if you are using four tablespoons of butter you need to whisk in four tablespoons of flour. Keep stirring while it’s cooking. The cook time depends on your own preferences. However, the darker the roux the less thickening ability it will possess. Once it’s to your liking, add your cold cream, milk, or the liquid of your preference and… Bingo bang-go! You have a great base for your cheese sauce.
Now comes the fun part. The cheese! The tried and true cheese of choice is of coarse cheddar. If you are at my house, the sharper the better. For those of you who like a kick, pepper jack is always tasty too. Gouda and blue cheese can add depth and dimension for those with a more distinguished palette. Mix and match, pick and choose, with the cheese the world is your oyster.
Steamed veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach can all be used as stir in options. Although, steaming them first and removing as much water as you can is helpful. Adding extra liquid may thin out your dish. Finishing touches can be anything from simply adding additional cheese on top, some precooked bacon, ham, chicken, or even pork chops. Once finished, you have a one-pot meal that the entire family can enjoy.