Recipe 34: Mustard Kielbasa Mac and Cheese

I actually made this mac last night, but I didn’t type it up until today.  Why?  I’m a bit under the weather.  Not dying or anything – I’ve definitely been worse – but the most appealing activity I can think of at the moment is sleep.  Long, luxurious sleep.  And then after eating and other necessaries, sleeping some more.  I spent much of yesterday napping, and Loverman even woke me up when he came home from work to inquire about dinner.  “So basically you want me to get up and make dinner?” I grumbled.  Don’t worry, he was just checking how much of a snack he should have to tide him over until I got around to making dinner; he knows how to feed himself.  Staying up for work tonight will be interesting.

This recipe is courtesy of Food in My Beard.  You may remember it from such Weekly Mac highlights as Lobster Mac and Cheese, Pork Belly Mac and Cheese, and my favorite Beardie recipe (so far), Mac and Cheesesteak.  I took a forced sabbatical from using his recipes for a while since I was doing so many from his site, but I certainly did not forget the power of the beard.  When I saw this recipe, I thought it was necessary to try this.  Why?  Much like mushrooms, it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to appreciate kielbasa.  Again, like mushrooms, it was largely owing to overcoming negative exposures in my youth (jeez, I’m becoming a sort of food-Freud or something).  Growing up, the kielbasa I’d had was always insanely salty and prepared rather plainly, usually just boiled.  Thankfully, after some patient exposure therapy courtesy of Loverman and friends, I discovered it could be an enjoyable part of a meal.  And so when I read this recipe, I recognized another chance to put aside long-held culinary prejudices and make amends.

 

Mustard Kielbasa Mac and Cheese (from Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb Kielbasa (if you are gluten-free, check your ingredients; I used Hillshire Farms)
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour (I used Pamela’s)
  • 3 Cups Milk
  • 20 Oz. Yellow Cheddar (you can use white cheddar of course, but then you won’t get a fun, insanely yellow color at the end)
  • 1/3 Cup Mustard (I just used plain yellow)
  • 1 Lb Small Rigatoni (I used corn penne
  • 1 Handful Chopped Arugula (I had baby arugula and just shredded it by hand)

Directions

Chop the kielbasa into pieces that match the size of the pasta. Cook the kielbasa in a splash of oil to brown up a bit and release some fat. There is a lot of sugar in kielbasa, so stir often to prevent the bottom of the pan from burning. Remove the kielbasa from the pan keeping the fat in. Saute the onion in the oil/kielbasa fat mixture until just lightly browning. Add the butter and melt. Add the flour and mix well. Cook the flour in the pan for about 3-5 minutes stirring almost constantly until it turns golden brown. Add the milk and mix well to assure no lumps form. Bring to a simmer.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes while shredding the cheese. Add the cheese to the pot and stir to incorporate. If you add the cheese while the sauce is too hot, it will separate, but this can be fixed with a stick blender (I am lazy so I just added the cheese while it was still hot; it seemed to work fine).  Add the mustard and arugula to the sauce (it takes a little bit, but eventually it will turn an almost unnatural shade of yellow, and it will make you kind of giggle). Boil the pasta for a few minutes less than directed. Strain and toss in the sauce. Add in the kielbasa and toss. Pour into a baking dish and bake at 450 for about a half hour until bubbly and browned on top (mine was slightly burned, but thankfully it didn’t ruin things).

Oops.

 

Verdict: 3/5

Opposites on the color wheel AND the school colors where I did my undergrad!

 

I think my disinclination towards kielbasa still lingers a bit in that I still find it slightly saltier than I generally care for.  But that is one ingredient out of a whole recipe.  Just as I didn’t grow up with a very respectable preparation of kielbasa, I also had never heard of pairing them with mustard until recently – and it works.  The mild sharpness of the mustard with the saltiness of the sausage pair nicely.  I suppose if you were gutsier than me you could try something other than yellow mustard – a Dijon or a Chinese spicy perhaps?  I personally didn’t think the arugula added anything, but it didn’t detract from anything either – and hey, it does sneak some greens into your mac, and if that’s what it takes, then why not?

 

On another note, any suggestions how to improve things here?  Drop me a line!


Recipe 33: Bacon Mac-N-Cheese

Hey, Weekly Mackers… It’s me, Lex.  You remember me.  Come on, don’t be like that.  You know I still love you, right?  Right?!

Seriously though, I apologize for my extended absence.  I wish I could give you some awesome excuse as to why I’ve been away so long, like that I was finding myself in an ashram in India or backpacking across Europe or training with kung fu monks on a mountain top, but the reality is much more mundane: I’ve been distracted by my return to the workplace.  Oh, it’s not like I’m working any crazy overtime or anything (yet – I’ve been told I may want to anticipate this), just trying to fit some of these recipes in to my days off when I might not feel like sweating over a stove in a small, hot kitchen – since I’m very unlikely to fit them in during the time before I leave for work.

So what does this mean for the challenge?  Good question.  I don’t have an answer.  A friend recently asked me if I would make it to 52, and I honestly don’t know.  I know I’ll try and that I have more than enough options to choose from, but whether or not I’ll succeed still remains to be seen.  But please keep faith in me, Weekly Mackers.

And now, on to the mac.

As anyone who has had even the slightest cognizance of culinary trends on TV and the Internet well knows, bacon has found its way into just about any food item imaginable – and maybe even some most sane people wouldn’t imagine.  I, for one, am fine with this trend.  I don’t have bacon often because it’s just so very decadent I try to keep it as a treat (says the chick running a mac and cheese blog), but when I have it, I’m darn well going to enjoy it.  I think the combination of bacon with mac and cheese makes perfect sense – both are rich and decadent, slightly salty, and I think the bacon pairs well with cheese.  So come with me, dear friends: Put away those calorie counters and hide that bathroom scale in the corner.  Today is the day for celebrating fat and salt and carbs.  Tomorrow we diet.

Bacon Mac-N-Cheese (from $35 a Week)

Ingredients

• 1 lb. elbow macaroni or other pasta of your choice – I used corn elbows
• 5 1/2 cups sharp cheddar, about 1 lb. – I used a pound of yellow cheddar
• 4 cups whole milk – I used skim because that’s what I had.  Whole might have been better, but skim works all right
• 6 slices bacon
• 3 T flour (I used Pamela’s)
• 4 small or 2 large cloves garlic, smashed (I used two large)
• A few thyme sprigs (mine were from the garden)
• 2 1/2 cups good-quality bread crumbs (I used gluten-free bread crumbs and panko, as I ran out of bread crumbs and was too lazy to get some of my gluten-free bread and blend it up)
• A T or so of olive oil
• Salt & pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss the bread crumbs in the olive oil with a little salt and pepper and bake until well-browned and crunchy, stirring a couple of times to prevent burning. 10 minutes? I admit I wasn’t paying attention to how long this took. Just start it while you’re prepping the other ingredients. – I did this differently, as will be indicated below

When the bread crumbs are done, remove them, set aside, and increase oven heat to 400 F. Grease a 13×9 Pyrex dish.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just a minute or two shy of al dente. Drain, rinse well under cold water, and set aside.

Put the smashed garlic and thyme in a medium saucepan.

Add the milk, plus salt and pepper to taste, and heat to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and keep covered while you prep everything else.  Try not to let it boil over.  Mine was on low apparently too long and started to boil over slightly.  The bottom of the pot looked icky, but things tasted fine.

Cook the bacon over medium-low heat in another medium saucepan until crisp and all the fat has rendered. Remove, chop, and set aside.  If you will be too tempted by the bacon, cook an extra strip or two for yourself.  I happily was strong enough to resist.   Increase heat to medium. If your bacon didn’t release 3 tablespoons’ worth of fat, add some reserved bacon fat (keep a can in your fridge!) or, less desirably, butter (I had some bacon fat leftover from making some with breakfast – hey, if you’re going to be gluttonous, make a day of it, I guess – and I used that.  I may have used a little too much) Add the flour to the hot bacon fat and stir to make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until light golden brown. Put a strainer over the saucepan and strain the hot milk into the roux. Continue to cook, stirring often, until thickened slightly. It should coat the back of a wooden spoon to where you can draw a line through it. Stir in the grated cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Be aware that with the bacon grease, the cheese sauce will be a very unappetizing color.  Fear not.  Breathe deep the vapors of bacon and trust in its goodness.

Add the cheese sauce to the drained pasta and stir to incorporate. Fold in the chopped bacon. Spread into the prepared Pyrex dish and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes

Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

I totally did the breadcrumbs differently: As mentioned above, I’d made bacon with breakfast this morning, and the pan still had a bit of grease in it (I left it unwashed since I knew I’d need to cook bacon later… Don’t judge me).  I added some more of the leftover bacon fat from the morning and used that instead of olive oil in hopes of having even more bacon flavor because what is better than bacon except more bacon?  I just toasted the bread crumbs/panko on the stove top.  It probably didn’t get as browned as it could have, but I don’t think it detracted from anything.  Also, it wasn’t until typing up this blog post that I realize that I cooked this wrong: I mixed the cheese/bacon with the pasta, added the bread crumbs, and baked for 20 minutes.  Everything was cooked through and the top was browned, so I think everything went OK despite this variation.

My dinner and a cross-section of the mac.

Verdict: 3/5

I myself am rather nonplussed with the rating.  I was expecting to be raving about this recipe, singing its praises in lovingly composed paeans in the streets while joyfully frolicking and distributing bacon like beads at Mardi Gras.  Perhaps I built myself up too much.

This is not to say that this mac is bad – far from it.  I simply think it could be improved.  Between Loverman and I, we came up with two simple improvements that would have sent this over the edge: Less breadcrumbs and more bacon.  I love me some breadcrumbs, but the crust felt a bit overwhelming to me.  Maybe only 1 1/2 cups would suffice?  And while six strips of bacon seems a lot, the recipe makes six servings, which is only one strip of bacon per person.  Maybe your willpower it stronger than mine, but if I am having bacon, I want more than just one strip.  Maybe doubling the bacon called for would make this extra-indulgent, which is really what I, for one, want in a bacon mac and cheese.

Fun fact: Before even tasting a bite, while waiting for it to cool a bit, this recipe inspired me.  Perhaps I was thinking of the dinner Loverman and I had out last night at one of the local restaurants, namely the dish Loverman ordered: Why not a bacon-blue mac and cheese?  Wouldn’t that just be sinfully delicious?  Oh, the wheels are turning, friends!


Recipe 32: Parmesan Shells and Cheese

So remember I said the newest mac would be made on Sunday?  Well Loverman and I were invited to dinner with his parents, so that clearly didn’t happen.  Then Monday we took a post-work nap and, shocked how late we had snoozed, we just slapped some stuff together to eat.  And yesterday we cooked something we had taken out to defrost a few days before.  So it didn’t happen.  Please forgive me, Weekly Mackers.  It’s been a long time since Loverman and I have been on the same schedule with work, and we are both kind of dropping the ball with dinner preparation.  Guess it’s a good thing my schedule will be completely shifting next week – which will mean fewer nights free for recipe-experimentation.

On the flipside, I have found a bunch of delicious-sounding macs recently.  It’s hard to know where to start!  Even more exciting, with 32 out of 52 recipes complete, that’s over 61% of the challenge complete and only 20 more macs to go!  Woohoo!

This mac is great because it is one of the many that uses ingredients that you either likely have in your pantry or can obtain quite easily.  Remember – when a recipe calls for Parmesan cheese (at least as its primary cheese), do not use shaky-cheese out of a green tube!  Use the real stuff!

Parmesan Shells and Cheese (from about.com)

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour (or gluten-free alternative)
  • 1 cup chicken broth (vegetable broth would probably be fine too, but because the original calls for chicken broth, I didn’t mark this as vegetarian; mine was homemade)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces small shell macaroni, uncooked (I used corn; I actually am not sure the shape matters)
  • 1 cup soft bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • paprika, optional (I left this out because I forgot about it; good thing it was optional)

Directions

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in flour, cooking until hot and bubbly, about 1 minute. Gradually stir in chicken broth and milk. Add the salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbly. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and continue to cook and stir until cheese is melted.  Note: It will start out super soupy and you will be worried you read the ingredients wrong.  Relax. and trust in The Force.  It will thicken out in time if you let it simmer and stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook the shells in boiling salted water as directed on package. Drain well and add to the sauce mixture, blending well. Transfer to a lightly buttered 2-quart baking dish. Combine bread crumbs with melted butter and parsley flakes; sprinkle over the casserole.

Bake at 325° for 25 to 35 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with paprika before serving, if desired.  Serves 4 to 6.

OK, so it isn’t pretty.

Verdict: 2.5/5

I think the somewhat low number for this mac is actually pretty misleading, as is the tag “due for a do-over.”  The taste was not the issue, but rather the proportions: The bread crumbs to pasta ratio was all off; both Loverman and I agreed that there were way too many breadcrumbs.  The taste was slightly nutty and earthy, something which I feel would be complimented by mushrooms.  Loverman chimed in his usual suggestion of chicken breast, and for once I agree.  He added that if the chicken was a little peppery it would be ideal, and I think he’s right on with that idea as well.  I think this would suit several different protein additions.

 

On an unrelated note, since we are on the downward slope for this challenge, I’ve toyed with the idea of making a non-mac blog.  Still, does the Internet really need yet another self-indulgent blog out there?  Probably not.  Still, I’ve considered it.  We’ll see how things go, I suppose.