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Recipe 5: Mac and Cheesesteak

I honestly don’t remember how I stumbled upon the website Food in My Beard, and I honestly don’t care either: I have found it, and it’s awesome.  It’s amusing.  Its fans are called Beardies.  And it has a ridonkulous amount of recipes that sound crazy-good.

In my quest to find 52 mac and cheese recipes to try this year, I have come across so many recipes that mimic each other.  One might be called “Three cheese mac” and another called “Mom’s mac and cheese,” but the ingredients are the same, so despite the different titles, they are the same.  Even ones with different ingredients often have such similar ingredients that I can’t believe they would taste so different to warrant reviewing them both.

Enter Food in My Beard.  Dan, the author, is clearly a mac and cheese fan too – he has over fifteen different mac and cheese recipes to date.  That is impressive enough – but they all seem wildly different from each other.

The one I wanted to try first was this mac and cheese steak recipe.  Although I have been to Philadelphia, I actually have never had a proper cheese steak.  Shameful, I know; in my defense, I was visiting a friend and taking in the culture.

Observe the culture.

Despite never having a proper Philly cheese steak, I do know that I like cheese, beef, and caramelized onions – so I thought this sounded like a good place to start combing through the food-strewn beard.

Mac and Cheesesteak (from Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • 0.8 lbs American cheese, grated
  • 0.8 lbs provolone cheese, grated
  • 6oz. Asiago cheese, grated
  • 2 onions(I recommend something sweet, like vidalias)
  • 2 lbs. shaved steak
  • 4 Tablespoons flour (I used Pamela’s, a gluten-free flour blend.  Also, 4 Tablespoons is the same as 1/4c)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, plus a little more
  • 6 cups milk (yes, 6.  I used skim)
  • 1 1/2 lbs gemelli pasta (I used rice elbows because that is what I had)
  • Breadcrumbs (they do make gluten-free breadcrumbs too!)
  • Optional banana peppers (I left them out)

Directions

Sear off the steak in batches to get it all nice and brown (this was probably the most time-consuming part for me – easy, just time-consuming). Remove from pan. In the same pan cook the onions down in some butter until very browned (I used 1 Tablespoon, and I don’t think even that much was purely necessary, as there was still a lot of “meat juice” in which to cook the onions.  Yeah, I said “meat juice”). Meanwhile heat the butter and flour whisking often until smooth and very slightly starting to brown. Add the milk whisking constantly and bring to a simmer. Once the simmer is achieved and the mixture is thickened, kill the heat and let the temperature drop a bit (I confess I didn’t kill the heat to let the temperature drop; I don’t think it hurt things any). Turn the heat back on low and slowly start adding the cheese in handfuls, whisking to be sure everything is melting evenly. Drop the pasta into salted boiling water. Cook a few minutes less than the package says (I actually cooked the pasta while I was searing the steaks). Strain and mix with the sauce. Mix in the meat (I put the meat in first, then the cheese; my reason why is below). Spread onions and optional banana peppers on top and lightly press into the mixture with a spoon. Top with breadcrumbs (I used maybe half a cup-ish?  I didn’t measure, just scooped it out by hand and sprinkled) and bake at 400 until the sauce is bubbling and the top is browned (this took me maybe 5 – 10 minutes). If it hasn’t browned, broil it for a minute or 2.  There is no serving size listed, but this serves a lot of people.  Totally.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Despite the simplicity in terms of actual execution, there are a lot of little steps.  This can seem a bit overwhelming when trying to scramble and get everything done.  In fact, while the mac was browning in the oven, here was just a partial view of the aftermath of dirty dishes.

OK, I didn't use the kettle. But still.

Don’t worry.  You can totally do this.  With great food comes great responsibility.

Amusing anecdote related to this recipe: I gave the list of cheese I needed for the recipe to Loverman when he went grocery shopping.  I thought a request as specific as 0.8 lbs of American and provolone cheese each would prompt him to go to the cheese counter and get a nice block.  Instead I got a bunch of pre-packaged slices.  *facepalm*  Oh well; as we established last week, common sense isn’t always my forte, and he is like me in that.  But waste not want not: I ripped it, crumbled it – did everything to make it as much like shredded cheese as possible.  I feared I would have another failure to report back to you guys because of the ingredients at my disposal.

Totally not the case.

As a rule, it is an enormous blessing that the Internet does not come with Smell-O-Vision.  This is one time I wish there was an exception.  First there was the aroma of seared beef to enjoy.  Then came the onions.  That sweet-and-savory perfume of onions caramelizing in beef drippings and a touch of butter reminds me of French onion soup, and it permeated the entire apartment for a while.

As for the cheese, I confess I was a bit reticent.  Provolone is not my favorite, nor is Asiago (I think they can be a bit strong sometimes), but ohmygod people, this was awesome.  Despite starting with the sliced American and provolone (I did get a block of Asiago to shred at home!), the cheese sauce was smooth and creamy and amazing.  It paired perfectly with the caramelized onions and the steak.

There was, however, a lot of it.  I don’t know if my gluten-free pasta absorbs differently than regular pasta (never noticed it before, but hey), but I found that there was way too much sauce for my pasta – or at least for the size casserole dish I had (and I used the biggest one I own!)  Thankfully I noticed this before mixing the two: I mixed the beef in the pasta first, then added the cheese sauce to reduce the possibility of spillage.  Also, after getting some spillage anyway, I put my casserole dish on top of a cookie sheet… And I still had a lot of leftover sauce that absolutely could not fit into my casserole dish.  I feared this might result in an under-cheesed dish, but thankfully my fears were unfounded.

Although next time I might use panko instead of breadcrumbs.

This was creamy and savory with a touch of sweet from the vidalia.  I took a bite and turned to the hubz and declared, “I think I love this.”  Although he enjoyed it, he was more subdued in his praise.  We both had seconds and we have plenty of leftovers.  I already promised to give my neighbor a sample, and although it pains me to give away some of this delicious dish, I also feel obliged to spread the joy.

So yes, I loved this.  You will too.  Unless, you know, you’re vegetarian.  But I know I am a Beardie for sure.


Recipe 4: Chipotle Mac

Pics are added!  The issue was with my camera, but thanks to a friend pointing out common sense to me, I remembered that my computer has an SD port and I could obtain them that way.  Common sense is not exactly my strong suit, I’m sad to say.

Anyway, I have a not-so-great habit of getting cookbooks that seem really amazing, and then leaving them to gather dust on the shelf or on kitchen counters.  I’d like to think other food-lovers have that habit too because there are just so many awesome recipes out there in the world that no one person could try them all, but that is probably just me trying to assuage my own guilt.  I have lately been trying to increase my usage of the cookbooks in my possession, and what better excuse to whip them out than this challenge?

Among the cookbooks in my possession that has been neglected thus far is The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, the tenth anniversary edition of a cookbook highlighting various (reported) aphrodisiacs.  Hubba-hubba.  If you can get past the anecdotes about spouses/lovers getting randy through food and the sometimes over-the-top double entendres, there are actually a lot of excellent-sounding recipes herein, regardless of your particular aims at seduction.

One of many sleepless nights I’ve had recently, I was thumbing through this book and was surprised to find a mac and cheese recipe here!  Filed under the chapter on chiles (alleged to recreate some of the physical responses of an intimate encounter), this recipe was described as having “Southwestern overtones on a classic.”  Now I confess, as much as I love me some mac and cheese, I can’t say that it ever struck me as a particularly erotic food – but let’s take another look at it:  Mac and cheese is one of the best-known American comfort foods, making us feel warm, cozy, and nostalgic.  It may not be as new and exciting as some other things out there, but is that a real good reason to turn it down?  So mac and cheese may not be as sexy as some of the other recipes on the book, it doesn’t make it bad.  Some recipes are about lust, but this one is all about love.

Besides, is there anything better at getting someone feeling a bit amorous than making them a good meal, regardless of what it is?  I doubt it.

Chipotle Mac (from The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge)

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. penne pasta (I used rice penne)
  • 1 Tablespoon adobo sauce (from a small can of chipotles in adobo), more if desired
  • 1 8oz. carton of crème fraîche
  • 1/2cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Preheat the broiler.  Add the penne and cook according to package directions until al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, add the adobo sauce to the container of crème fraîche and stir together (not sure what container they used, but mine was too small to do this in the container; thankfully, I had the foresight to mix everything in a separate bowl so I wouldn’t make a mess).  Taste and add more adobo, if desired.  Drain the noodles and pour into a small casserole dish.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the crème fraîche mixture and stir until all the noodles are well coated.  Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the Parmesan has turned golden brown and is beginning to crisp (I didn’t let it burn like last time).  Serve immediately.  Yields 4 servings (or two very hungry adults).

Fresh out of the oven

Verdict: 3/5

This was a simple recipe to put together, and although I don’t keep crème fraîche in my fridge or adobo sauce, everything else is generally in my pantry.  My main issues with the recipe were my own, to be honest.  Let me explain:

As you may have noticed, I have a page where I talk about gluten-free pastas.  In my area, rice pasta is the easiest to obtain and it tends to come in more shapes than some other gluten-free pastas.  On the downside, it can become mushy quite easily.  Sadly, that happened with my batch of pasta (which, I’ll add, came in a 12oz package, which seems an odd size since most of the recipes I have seen call for either 8oz. or 1lb of pasta).  OK, that is a fault of my cooking, not the recipe.  Let me put the plea out there now for better gluten-free pastas!

Secondly, the quest for adobo sauce was unresolved in my case.  We have several great grocery stores with comprehensive international food sections, but I could not find any in our Mexican food sections, nor could Loverman.  Since it does come from chipotles, I wanted to try a chipotle hot sauce we recently received at a Yankee Trader event.  I normally don’t like hot sauce, but this offers a good smoky flavor, not just heat for heat’s sake.  So I confess, I had to fudge this a little bit.  Hey, I’m keeping it real with you guys.

In terms of texture, the pasta was the issue, which we’ve already established has everything to do with its cooking, not with the ingredient.  I am a wuss about anything spicy, but as I said, the chipotle offered more flavor than heat (though don’t be deceived, there was heat too); in fact, I think even a bit more chipotle flavor would have made for an even more complex flavor.  I loved the slightly chewy Parmesan top, though I personally would have liked more for the extra contrast of flavor and texture.  Loverman offered his usual suggestion to add chicken to improve it, and for once I agree: I think adding that extra element would really send this recipe over the top.  I would totally make this recipe again – though I might choose a different gluten-free pasta with less risk of turning into mush – so I’ll mark this as Due for a Do-Over as well.

I have been lucky enough to find several recipes to try, but I could always use more!  Please feel free to e-mail me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com with suggestions!


Recipe 3: Macaroni & Cheese Deluxe

Good news!  Thanks to the technical ministrations of Loverman, the computer is back up and running!  Bad news: The computer is still refusing to talk to the digital camera (or is it vice versa?), so the pictures for the last post and this one will be delayed a bit further.  Alas.  Edit: Added!

Anyway, I promised I would give you folks a recipe that didn’t come from Food Network (not that the recipes are bad, just to provide some variety), so here it is.  I’ve downloaded some cookbooks on my Kindle, and one jumped out at me in my browsing: One that is all mac and cheese recipes from the Gooseberry Patch!

Brief tangent: I received my Kindle as a gift a few Christmases ago from my mother-in-law.  I probably wouldn’t have bought one for myself, but now that I have one, I actually really like it.  Sure, there are definitely times I prefer to pick up a physical book and thumb through the pages, but when it comes to traveling, even just to appointments, it’s great to have a wide selection of books available without taking up much weight.  Plus the cost of books is often cheaper.

Anyway, the recipe… Well, maybe I should let the verdict speak for itself:

Macaroni & Cheese Deluxe (from Circle of Friends Cookbook – 25 Mac & Cheese Recipes by Gooseberry Patch)

Ingredients

  • 2 c. cream-style cottage cheese (notes on this below)
  • 1 c. sour cream (this was about an 8oz. container)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 t. pepper
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 8 oz. package shredded cheddar cheese (I used sharp white)
  • 1 1/2 elbow macaroni, cooked (I used quinoa)
  • Optional: Paprika

Directions

In a bowl, combine cottage cheese, sour cream, egg, and seasonings.  Add cheddar cheese and mix well; add macaroni and stir until coated.  Transfer to a greased 13″ x 9″ baking pan.  Bake, covered, at 350 degrees (pet peeve: seriously, could you not have told us to preheat the oven back at the beginning?) for 25 to 30 minutes, or until heated through.  Sprinkle with paprika, if desired (I did desire).  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

...and looks like this after you take it out and uncover it.

Verdict: 1.5/5

Guys, this seriously bummed me out.  I was actually kind of excited at the prospect of what seemed like an extra-creamy recipe and the unorthodox addition of cottage-cheese.  But what exactly does “cream-style cottage cheese” even mean?  Does it mean ricotta?  Why not just say that then?  What I did use was small-curd 4% milkfat cottage cheese.  Was it the right choice?  I don’t know. 

Also, the way they put the measurements of the pasta was different than many other recipes: in cups rather than the size of the packageDid they mean measure the pasta dry or after it’s been cooked?  I measured when it was dry and used a bit more for good measure, and it still seemed the pasta-to-cheese ratio, as Loverman put it, was off.  I love me a super-cheesy mac, but there was way too much cheese and not enough mac.

What I do know though is that despite all those creamy ingredients, the dish turned out anything but creamy; in fact, it was watery.  Should I  have drained the cottage cheese – or used a different type entirely?  Maybe.  I drained the pasta as thoroughly as I ever do, so I don’t think that was the issue, but regardless, as I dished out the mac, there was a veritable kiddie-pool at the bottom of the dish.  Yuck.

That having been said, I don’t think the flavors were necessarily bad.  The problem was more with a lack of clarity in the directions (at least in my opinion – I shouldn’t have to guess what they mean!) but even more so with texture.  It was… squishy.  Were it not for the puddle in the dish and the unpleasant texture of the dish, the flavors themselves might have been all right, but I just couldn’t look past the mushiness.  This recipe might be worth a re-visit in an attempt to correct the many wrongs in this dish – inspiring me to add the tag “due for a do-over.”

On an amusing note, you may remember that when I posted my first recipe, an Alton Brown creation, I mentioned that my husband, Loverman, is a bit of an Alton fanboy.  When I was getting ready to serve dinner tonight, Loverman indicated he had e-mailed me a recipe that he felt should be our next mac and cheese attempt.  Lo and behold, it was the Alton Brown mac we had already tried.  He was in disbelief that it could have been a gaffe from his beloved Alton.

But I do always need ideas for new mac and cheese recipes to try!  If you have a recipe you’d like to see me try, e-mail me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com!


Recipe 2: Pesto Mac and Goat Cheese

Confession time: I seriously love goat cheese.  Over pasta, in grilled cheese, in a salad, even in truffles – I can’t think of any application in which I’ve had it and didn’t like it.  There is something about the tangy creaminess of it that tickles my tastebuds.  So I was super-excited when I found this recipe to foist upon offer to my friend Jen when she came over for lunch and girl talk.  I made a half-recipe to cut down on leftovers.  I took some pictures, but right now my computer is having a nervous breakdown and won’t talk to my camera, so they will be up later.  Edit: They are now added!

Pesto Mac and Goat Cheese (from Food Network – I will have non-FN recipes, I promise)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs (yes, they make gluten-free panko)
  • 1 3/4 cups Parmesan cheese (this needs to be divided.  I made this mistake)
  • 1 pound mini pasta shells (I used quinoa “pagoda spirals” because there were no shells in the house)
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 16 ounces goat cheese (I used a chevre from Lively Run, a local creamery)
  • 1/2 cup pesto sauce, store-bought or home-made (I used a homemade pesto I had frozen)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Butter a 2 quart baking dish (or use non-stick cooking spray, like I did). Preheat the broiler and arrange a rack on top.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pan over low heat. In a large bowl add the garlic, basil, panko, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Add the melted butter and toss to combine. Reserve.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, put the half-and-half in a small pot and bring to a simmer over low heat (I used medium heat because I am impatient; I think it was fine). Simmer until reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. Put the pot over low heat and add the half-and-half mixture. When it simmers, add the goat cheese and whisk until smooth. Add in the remaining Parmesan and whisk until melted.

Add the pasta and stir to coat. Stir in the pesto, reserved cooking water, salt, and pepper. Season with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper, if needed.

Pour the pasta mixture into the buttered baking dish and top with the panko mixture. Put under the broiler until the mixture bubbles and the top is browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Verdict: 4.5/5

This easily could have gone into the fail-files.  Firstly, I neglected to read ahead far enough -or pay enough attention when reading – to realize that the parmsan needed to be separated, some for the topping, some for the cheese-mixture.  This led to me having a ridonkulous amount of parmesan in my topping.  Well, I thought, I really like the crispy topping on a mac and cheese, so maybe it won’t matter.

It might not have mattered… Except I accidentally burned the top.  See where the directions indicate to brown the top for only 1 – 2 minutes?  Yeeeeahhh, I got distracted by something shiny and left it in for maybe 5 minutes or so.  This was too long.

BURNED!

Jen was going to be arriving fairly soon and I didn’t have the time or materials to make another batch.  So I did what any classy home chef does: I scraped off the burned bits and hoped for the best.  Did I mention I’m not a professional?

There, I fixed it.

Anyway, I after these rookie mishaps, I was dreading serving this meal, certain it would be dismal.

It totally wasn’t.

...and cooking-spoon is shocked.

To be fair, you need to be a fan both of pesto and of goat cheese.  If you dislike either, this is so not the dish for you – Loverman declared it “meh,” but he doesn’t much care for pesto and isn’t too wild about goat cheese either.  But if you are like me and totally dig both, then you will totally dig this.  The goat cheese offers all the delicious creaminess I crave in a mac and cheese, but it isn’t overly heavy at all.  Jen, who is trying to limit her dairy intake because it can give that unpleasant heavy feeling at times, said she thought it was great.  The pesto adds a fresh, green brightness to the flavor which, combined with the tanginess of the chevre made for a surprisingly invigorating dish.  Even some leftover burned crispies couldn’t detract from its awesomeness.

Way to bounce back after a mediocre start!  Hopefully there will be more soon (and the pictures for this post), but it will depend on if my computer gets over from its aforementioned nervous breakdown in a timely manner.


Cheesy Link

Shortly before I started this, my local newspaper serendipitously posted an overview on local restaurants’ “nouveau mac and cheese” dishes.  No actual recipes are included, but maybe these will be some jumping off points coming up!


Recipe 1: Stove Top Mac-N-Cheese

And so this mad endeavor begins.  I wanted to start with something simple, so I looked at a few options and went with this recipe from the Food Network website.  Though I confess that there was an underlying reason: It is an Alton Brown recipe.

My husband, “Loverman,” is a big Alton Brown fan.  Like bordering on fan-boy.  Of the few things he added to our wedding registry, three of them were Alton Brown books; when he received them, he read them cover to cover, studious as any scholar.  When Alton Brown gives a recipe for a dish, my husband tends to take it as gospel.  So it was I thought starting out with such a dish might start us off on a good note:

Stove Top Mac-N-Cheese (from Food Network)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni (I used quinoa pasta)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 ounces evaporated milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I accidentally used table salt.  Oops)
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

Directions

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese (Note: Be sure to do this little by little, or else you get a big glob that won’t really melt.  I have made that mistake before). Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.  Serves 6 to 8.

Here's my dinner

Verdict: 2/5

Oh, Alton.  I wanted to believe it could be so easy.  Sure, it was easy to put it all together – boiling the water was probably the longest part of the whole process, during which I grated the cheese – but this left me thoroughly underwhelmed.  The flavors weren’t all that bad per se, but they weren’t terribly interesting either – very one-note, bland.  We have several leftovers, but I don’t see either of us eating them without adding something to it.  When I asked the hubz what he thought, he gave a half-hearted “It was OK” before adding his suggestion for improvement: “Sausage,” which tends to be his go-to suggestion to improve any vegetarian dish (well, meat in general).  Actually, I think maybe a spicy sausage, a chorizo perhaps, would add a much needed variation to an otherwise meh dish.

So much for starting off with a bang.  Maybe another recipe soon, partly to wash away this defeat, but secondly because it doesn’t seem a bad idea to frontload this challenge a bit – one, because I can slack some weeks, but secondly it’s much more enjoyable to eat a gooey mac and cheese in the chilly  winter versus the humid summer… Yeah, I should have thought of that before.

Update! We had the leftovers tonight!  We added a little bit of andouille and ketchup (yes, ketchup), and my husband added hot sauce.  We felt these were marked improvements over the original.  With these changes, I’d change the rating to 3/5.