Recipe 23: Mark Bittman’s Nutty Macaroni and Blue Cheese

Did you miss me, Weekly Mackers?  No, don’t speak: I know you did, and you can stop fretting because I have returned.  I spent the long Memorial Day weekend camping with Loverman, our Napoleonic little dog, and friends.  I had fun, but I am relieved to be home with hot showers, central air, a soft bed, and most of all respectful neighbors.  Here’s a helpful hint on camping etiquette: It is fine to sing around the campfire for entertainment, and even to be occasionally boisterous past dark.  Drunkenly caterwauling off-key songs with guitar accompaniment is not.  To be fair, some members of our group were less-than-sober at times – however, when you are trying to learn the words to Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” by screaming louder than you have been (yes, screaming), and it’s close to midnight, and the entire rest of the campgrounds are quiet, I don’t care if you are intoxicated or stone-cold sober: You’re a jerk.

I’ve become a crabby old lady before my time.  I’ve made peace with that.

 Anyway, even before I left, I have been wanting to make today’s mac.  I found this recipe for Mark Bittman’s macaroni and cheese, which included several different variations from the basic recipe.  I could have made just the basic version, but what’s the fun in that?  I decided to make this more umami variation.  The flavors may be more suited for autumn – I love the combination of blue cheese and walnuts with autumn fruits like pears or apples – but I was craving a blue mac.  I’ve slightly re-jiggered the wording of some of the ingredients and directions to make it clearer from the original instructions, but this is all Mark Bittman, not me.  Just to give credit where it’s due.

Nutty Macaroni and Blue Cheese (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups milk, low-fat is fine (good, because I only had skim)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta (I used corn elbows)
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (or flour substitute)
  • 1  cup grated cheese, like a mild cheddar (I used a sharp cheddar because that’s what I had)
  • 1 cup blue cheese
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup or more bread crumbs, preferably fresh

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Cook the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.

3. Cook the pasta to the point where it is almost done but you would still think it needed another minute or two to become tender. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a large bowl.

4. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk and continue to do so until all the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar and stir.

5. Pour the sauce over the noodles, toss in the blue cheese and walnuts, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9 x 13-inch or similar-size baking pan (or use non-stick spray, as I did) and turn the pasta mixture into it. Top liberally with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, about 15 minutes. Serve piping hot. (But, you know, don’t burn your mouth or anything)

Mm… Bubbly blue cheese…

Verdict: 3/5

This was good, but not great, but I think I know why: The walnuts.  While they certainly pair well with blue cheese in and of themselves, neither Loverman nor I really cared for them in our mac.  I think maybe chopping them even smaller might do the trick or even mincing them super finely and using that instead of the bread crumbs.  Or heck, leave them out entirely; I don’t think it would really be lacking anything.  Also, blue cheese fiend that I am, I actually felt even more of the blue flavor would have been nice.  All this having been said, it was by no means a bad recipe, and I plan on trying some more variations on the recipe in the future.

In other news, is there anything you’d like to get out of this blog or my Facebook page that you aren’t getting?  Let me know!  I aim to please my adoring public.

Edit to Add: After having the leftovers of this mac a few times, I can tell you a few things that aren’t working.  The walnuts are even worse when warming up leftovers: The flavor seemed to infiltrate more than it had when it was fresh.  Also, the type of blue cheese I used didn’t seem to melt as much as I would have liked – I did buy a wedge and crumbled it up rather than buying crumbles, so maybe that has something to do with it?  But yeah; this does not reheat well, so I’d change the rating to 2/5.


Recipe 22: Maitake Mushroom Mac – a Weekly Mac Original!

Although I have what I’d like to consider a fairly diverse palette, I do recognize that I can get weirdly picky about certain foods.  Take spinach, for example:  Raw is always fine, but sometimes when it’s wilted and half the time when it’s fully cooked it tastes gross to me; and despite many attempts to discover it, I have yet to determine where exactly that line is between Good and Not Good.  For someone who has not had qualms about trying eel, alligator, or escargot, among other unusual things, I can get very specifically persnickety about certain very common foods.

Mushrooms are one of those foods.  For many years the only exposure I had was those mushy slices on pizzas or the slimy jarred specimens.  Nothing about either appealed to me or made me curious to try more.  They were flaccid – there was no other word for it – and tasted foul to me.  I did not understand how people could actually willingly consume these bizarre fungi.

However, there were some tentative forays into the mushroom possibilities.  My mother, another mycophobe, tried a chicken-mushroom soup that she enjoyed, and when making it herself, she cut the little shrooms extra small so as not to offend even her own palette; I liked it too.  A few years later, at the salad bar in college, one day I decided to be bold and add a couple of raw button mushrooms to my leafy spread.  Still a tad spongy, but definitely not the squishy grey blob I’d had before, and with a pleasant mild earthy taste.  The door was opened to further explorations.

Still, as the years passed, I didn’t go running for the shrooms in the produce aisle.  I knew it could be all right, but I was still leery.  Old food prejudices die hard, I suppose – I mean, they are a fungus, after all; that’s hard to get over.  When Loverman and I were dating and he told me about some Polish dish he liked that was mainly button mushrooms, I expressed my uncertainty, but reluctantly permitted him to make it.  My mouth did not reject the mushroom-laden plate, and in fact I really enjoyed it.  But there were still some times when I’d have mushrooms and get grossed out, so it was – and is – still trial and error.

I want to have a diverse palette.  Not even necessarily a sophisticated palette (as a rule my favorite wine choices are ridiculously sweet, for example), but I’d like to be one of those people who enjoys the majority of food choices out there.  Every so often I’ll try a new food or one that I have been cautious of trying again just to see if I will like it.  In the case of mushrooms, I have bought buttons here and there to try in dishes.  I even bought a pack of “mixed mushrooms” which contained shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms – mainly because I had seen a green-friendly product that would allow you to grow your own oyster mushrooms, and I was curious whether or not I would like them.  Turns out, oyster mushrooms were not for me.

The maitake, however, were all right.  I was only recently reminded of this by the most recent issue of Edible Finger Lakes, which featured an interview with Eugenia Bone, who recently wrote a book on mushrooms, and a small one page bit on mushrooms that can be foraged locally.  One of these is maitake, AKA hen-of-the-woods, not to be confused with chicken-of-the-woods, which is apparently a different mushroom.  It has been described as having such a hearty, almost meaty texture that it has reportedly helped some aspiring vegetarians make the switch from meat.  Well, aspiring vegetarian I am not, but I do aspire to expand my culinary horizons – and hey, there is nothing wrong with reducing one’s meat consumption.

There are plenty of places that can help you learn about foraging for mushrooms safely.  This is not one of them – unless you want help going to the local fancy-pants grocery store and picking up a pack, as I did.  I used most of it in a non-mac recipe that was excellent, but I still had a fair amount leftover.  What better use could this leftover chunk have than to become my next mac and cheese creation?

Funny thing: The Internet abounds with recipes for macs and cheese that include mushrooms, but not many that call specifically for maitake mushrooms.  Apparently a restaurant or two makes one, but the recipes are not immediately available – and what is the Internet for if not instant gratification?  No good.  So, in the spirit of culinary courage, I researched some cheese pairings that work well with maitake (I didn’t want to smother the natural umami of the shrooms but rather compliment it), consulted a few other mac recipes, and concocted my own recipe.  So here I stand before you (well, OK, I am sitting on the couch), humbly presenting the very first Weekly Mac Original Recipe.

Much as I am not a professional chef, I am likewise not a professional recipe author or tester.  I hope I’ve made this clear enough for anyone, but please feel free to ask for clarification if I’ve fallen short, either by leaving a comment below or by e-mailing me at weeklymacATyahooDOTcom

Maitake Mushroom Mac (a Weekly Mac original!)

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. pasta of choice – I used corn elbows
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for later
  • Half of a medium-sized yellow onion, diced (any other sweet onion would work well, too)
  • 3.5 oz maitake mushrooms, cleaned off and roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces… I’m sure 3 oz. or 4 oz. would be just fine, too; this is just how much my leftovers weighed.
  • 1 Tablespoon flour or gluten-free flour substitute
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (this is approximately what I had leftover from the last recipe)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Pecorino Romano, or just use the same amount of Parmesan or Gruyere
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese (a mild cheddar would probably work too)
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (use the real stuff if you can; it’s so much better than shaky-cheese)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Boil pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, add olive oil to a medium pan and put heat at medium-low to medium.  Add onion and sauté until onion is very soft and translucent, about 5 minutes or so.  Increase heat slightly and add maitake mushrooms to the onions, cooking until most of the moisture has left the mushrooms, maybe 3 – 5 minutes.  If the mixture seems too dry, add a little more oil, but I didn’t need to.  Your mileage may vary.  When this has been cooked, set aside – or if the pasta is cooked and drained by now, add it to the pasta.  Don’t put the pan in the sink yet; you’ll need it later.

Now in a medium pot, melt butter and add flour or flour-substitute, making a roux by stirring the flour into the butter.  Try to keep it white, but I usually mess this up and let it get brown (although not this time – go me!), so unless it’s burned horribly, you’re probably OK.  Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously.  Add the Colby jack, Gruyere, and Pecorino Romano – slowly so it won’t turn into glop – continuously stirring to incorporate the cheese into the milk-mixture.  Taste it, and if it needs salt or pepper, add some.  I tend to just add a dash of each for good measure, but I only added a bit of pepper, as I felt the Pecorino lent it enough saltiness.

Once the cheese is thoroughly incorporated, the sauce is ready: Thoroughly combine the pasta, onion and maitake mixture, and cheese sauce in a 7”x11” dish.  If you’re really worried about it overflowing or you’d prefer a thinner mac, then go ahead and use a 9”x13” – I just prefer my mac thicker, plus with the volume of food I didn’t see need for the larger dish.

In the same pan in which you cooked the onions and mushrooms, add another healthy glug of olive oil (yes, that’s a technical term – approximately another 2 Tablespoons if you’re looking for something more scientific) and turn heat to low.  Add the breadcrumbs, rosemary, and thyme, and stir to incorporate thoroughly; if it is too dry and not coming together well, you didn’t glug enough – add some more olive oil.  When it is incorporated and starting to become fragrant, remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Once cool, mix in Parmesan cheese.  Add the breadcrumbs-Parmesan mix to the top of the pasta-cheese mixture – make sure you spread it evenly!

Put in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the top turns a nice golden brown.  Then wait 5 – 10 minutes for it to cool before glomming it down like the marvelous mac-monster you are

Hen-of-the-woods, a vegetarian ingredient.

Verdict: 3/5

Not to toot my own horn, but toot-toot!

OK, it’s not the best mac I’ve ever tried, but for it being the first time I’ve tried concocting my own recipe, I feel I went pretty darn well.  I think making it again I would leave the mushrooms a bit chunkier, since I think some of that nice, meaty texture got lost.  Loverman felt it needed to be a bit cheesier, so maybe increasing the cheddar or the gruyere would help.  I do also think that – despite what I usually think – the bread crumbs were a bit much.  Maybe just 1/4 cup or so might be enough?  I do like the thyme and rosemary to compliment the savory flavor of the maitake – clearly there, but not overwhelmingly so.

If any of you try this, please let me know!  Even if you don’t like it, let me know anyway (but politeness is appreciated – and suggestions appreciated even more).  I hope this will just be the first in a series of original recipes… And nowhere to go but up from here (hopefully).


Recipe 21: Creole Mac and Cheese

Yesterday Loverman and I were invited to a “porch party,” a get-together our friends hold – surprise, surprise – on their back porch to enjoy the nice weather and each others’ company.  These get-togethers are pretty informal, just bring something to throw on the grill, a side dish, and maybe a beverage of choice.  Since we were also requested to bring a dish to pass, I figured it was the perfect excuse opportunity to make another mac.

The title I found on this one says “Creole Mac and Cheese.”  Aside from the use of andouille sausage, I’m not sure how authentically Creole the seasonings are.  Then again, a while ago I had up here a supposedly Cajun Mac and Cheese, and it was the same deal.  So I understand and accept this may not be authentic, and I hope you do, too.

Creole Mac and Cheese (from AllRecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 ounce) package elbow macaroni (I think mine was corn)
  • 1 cup andouille sausage, diced (I used 4 pork andouille sausages)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (this is divided)
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs (or gluten-free alternative)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 onion, chopped (I used two rather titchy yellow onions instead)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped (I did use it despite my dislike of celery, but doing it again I’d leave it out; that’s just my preference, however)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (or gluten-free alternative)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard (I used a Dijon mustard because I am a crazy rebel like that)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I used a sharp yellow Cheddar)
  • kosher salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cook macaroni in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. Drain.
  2. In a small pan, cook the andouille sausage over medium heat until done. Set aside. In the same pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add bread crumbs, and stir to coat. Cool, and then mix in Parmesan. Set aside.  (My sausage was pre-cooked, but I did this step anyway to get some of the sausage-grease into the crumbs)
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Saute onions and celery until translucent. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. In the same saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, to make a white roux. Try not to let the roux brown at all, it should be white. (I think I let mine get brown; I tend to do that.  I don’t think it mattered) Mix in paprika and mustard, then stir in milk. (The mixture will smell spicy and be kind of pinkish from the paprika) Bring to boil over medium heat, then add Gruyere and Cheddar cheeses. Simmer, stirring often, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter a 9×13 in pan, or similar sized casserole dish. Transfer cooked macaroni to the dish, and toss in the andouille sausage. Stir in the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture evenly over the top.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust turns golden brown.

Verdict: 3/5

I am kind of low-balling this despite good reviews from the guests who ate it.  I am so wussy about spice, and this was a bit too intense for me.  Still, there is definitely flavor and not just heat for heat’s sake, which I detest.  Maybe caramelizing the onions would be nice or letting the crumb topping get even a little browner so the Parmesan can get meltier would have been all right.  Some reviews that were given by the diners included “Hoo, that does have a kick to it – but it’s good though!” and “Mm… Nom nom nom” followed by a hug.  Really.

I neglected to bring my camera or borrow my hosts’ camera to take a picture of the mac when it came out of the oven, so here is a cell phone quality picture of the aftermath of eight people having descended upon it.  After this picture was taken, two more portions were served to late comers, leaving only one portion left to bring home.

Not a pretty sight, I know – but it was enjoyed, so there is that.

In unrelated news, Happy Mothers’ Day to all you mamas out there!  Here’s hoping you had a great day.  Well, I hope even you non-mamas had a great day too – but especially the mamas on their day.


Recipe 20: Creamy Mac and Cheese for Company (hybrid title)

I have so many recipes that I have been super-eager to try lately.  Despite my earlier complaint that I am sick of mac and cheese, I have had a resurgence of interest, anxious to try the new flavors, textures, variations on such a simple theme.  I have been holding back a bit to try to prevent both Loverman’s and my tastebuds from growing weary (or our waistlines from growing wider), but our local grocery store has just started offering generic gluten-free pastas, twice the amount of the name brands for about half the price.  Savings FTW.  Hopefully that will assist in getting these recipes accomplished without emptying the pockets too much.

You may have seen my addition in the post title hybrid title. “Hybrid title?” I can hear you wondering aloud (I have awesome hearing like that), “What does that mean?”  Well, I found this recipe in two different sources, one which called it “Company Mac and Cheese,” the instructions and ingredient list I am using here, and another which called it “Creamy Mac and Cheese.” So I combined the two titles rather than choosing one.  Of course, you can be like Loverman and me and keep this to yourselves rather than offering it to company.  I won’t tell.

Creamy Mac and Cheese for Company (this version of recipe from Taste of Home)

Ingredients

  • 1 package (7 ounces) elbow macaroni (Does macaroni come in 7oz packages?  Really?  Anyway, I used 8oz. corn rigatoni) 
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free equivalent)
  • 2 cups milk (I used skim)
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, cubed (it doesn’t really need to be cubed, just divided into small bits so it will melt easily)
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (I accidentally used this much dried parsley; remember you should use a ratio of 1:3 dried:fresh – 2T was too much dried)

Directions

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Reduce heat; add cheeses, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.  (I did all that in this order: cheddar, pepper, salt, mustard, cream cheese.  I doubt that it matters, but I figured the cream cheese would make the sauce much thicker and wanted to add it last.  It did, indeed, make it much thicker – almost gluey, in fact.  Try not to think about the fact that this will soon be coating your arteries).  Drain macaroni; add to the cheese sauce and stir to coat.

Transfer to a greased shallow 3-qt. baking dish. Melt the remaining butter; toss with bread crumbs and parsley. Sprinkle over macaroni. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  (Then wait the longest 5 – 10 minutes ever for it to cool)  Yield: 6 – 8 servings.

Yeah, our stovetop needs a scrub-down.


Verdict: 4/5

This probably would have been a 4.5 if I had done the breaded topping properly.  Even if I had done it correctly, however, I’m not sure that it’s strictly necessary; with the combination of cream cheese and the spicy mustard, I was pleased with how the cheese sauce alone tasted.  This was pretty simple in terms of ingredients and execution, but the flavors actually turn out somewhat complex – not as complex as some of the more unusual macs you’ve seen thus far, but for a mac with only two relatively pedestrian cheeses and no protein, not bad.  I really think cream cheese is not celebrated as much as it could be: I love its mild tanginess, a sort of salty-sweetness, and just how, well, creamy it is.  Although this contains spicy mustard, I would definitely not call it a spicy recipe; rather, the mustard offers more flavor than heat.  If, unlike me, you are a fan of spice, I would add a bit more of the spicy mustard – or even use a mustard spicier than spicy brown mustard.  Loverman felt it needed – what else? – chicken.  I don’t.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

 

Have any feedback for me?  I’d love to hear it!  E-mail me at weeklymac*AT*yahoo*DOT*com, leave me a comment here, or message me/post on my wall on Facebook.