Recipe 73: Shrimp, Feta, and Fresh Herb Mac and Cheese

Happy belated V-Day, Weekly Mackers! It’s been a tradition between the hubz and I to have a surf and turf for V-Day since our first V-Day together. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I adore seafood, so any chance I get to cook with it is fine by me. And using fresh herbs this time of year really wakes up the senses, brings you back to when things were actually growing.

Shrimp, Feta, and Fresh Herb Mac and Cheese – from Annie’s Eats

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. pasta shapes (I used corn elbows)
1 lb. raw shrimp (31-40 ct.), peeled and deveined, cut in half if desired (I so desired)
10 oz. feta cheese, crumbled and divided
Zest of 1 lemon, divided
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped, divided (I used 1/4oz)
5 tbsp. butter, divided (mine was salted, I don’t think it makes a difference)
4 tbsp. all-purpose flour (mine was Pamela’s gluten-free flour blend)
3 cups milk (mine was skim)
2 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped (I used 1/4oz)
8 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package directions. Drain well; set aside. Add the raw shrimp to the warm pasta and toss together. The heat from the pasta will partially cook the shrimp.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a small bowl, combine a handful of the feta, a pinch of the lemon zest, the panko, 2 teaspoons of the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the butter, melted. Toss with a fork to combine; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour to form a paste. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly, until light golden brown. Whisk in the milk. Continue to heat the mixture, stirring frequently, until it bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes. As soon as the sauce has thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining feta, Gruyere, remaining parsley, remaining lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the pasta and shrimp; toss well to coat.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 2½ or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb-feta mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

image

VERDICT: 3/5

Kinda disappointed with this one, won’t lie. Maybe it’s from cutting the shrimp in half, but they got kind of tough and overcooked. I would have used fine breadcrumbs instead of panko (or maybe a different brand of panko; we had not our usual brand in the house), and a little more of them. The hubz didn’t like it, saying “I don’t think I like the idea of lemon and cheese.” I’ll admit, the lemon was a bit overwhelming as a flavor, drowning out even the wonderful fresh dill; all I could taste was feta and lemon. It wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it was a lot of work only to be somewhat let down by it. Bummer.


Recipe 68: Crab Mac and Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes

There are a few recipes that I say are “due for a do-over,” which usually means I’m pretty sure I did something wrong to make the dish less than perfect. However there was one mac I made that inspired an entirely new one. I wish I could take credit for it, but it was Loverman who came up with it. When I made the lobster mac and cheese, he came up with several changes to the recipe that he thought would make it even better. I’m finally getting around to trying those changes. So here we are, another Weekly Mac original!

Crab Mac and Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes
Ingredients
8 oz. cheddar(I used sharp yellow)
8 oz gruyere
2 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
1/4 onion, diced
3 tablespoons flour (or gluten free substitute)
3 tablespoons truffle oil
1 lb pasta (I used corn elbows)
8oz lump crab meat (my container said it was best for crab cakes)
1/4 cup chopped tarragon
1/4 cup chopped basil
about 6oz chopped sundried tomatoes (mine came with “Italian basil seasoning” already on them)
1/4 c breadcrumbs
Blue cheese to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Cook pasta according to package directions while you make the sauce.

Take about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in it. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter and as it is melting, add the flour. Whisk it in and keep it moving, scraping the bottom. Get out all the lumps so it is a smooth mixture. Cook constantly stirring for 2 minutes. Add the milk. when the milk is almost boiling, slowly add the cheese in handfuls and make sure it is fully incorporated before adding the next. When all the cheese is in, add the truffle oil, herbs, and sundried tomatoes. Mix the pasta with the sauce and crab. Throw mixture into a 9″x13″ dish. Top with breadcrumbs and as many crumbles of blue cheese as you see fit (I used the better part of a 4oz container).

Put dish in oven and cook for 20 minutes. I didn’t want to do too much longer because I didn’t want to overcook the crab. Wait about 5 – 10 minutes for it to cool before serving.

Verdict: 2/5 – I gotta tell you, this was a real let down for both of us. The crab was too fishy. The sundried tomatoes, pre seasoned, were too loud, drowning out all flavors but the fishy crab. The best part was the blue cheese, and that was just the topping.

Do you have any recipes you think I should try? Let me know!


Recipe 52: Everything Bagel Mac and Cheese

When you go gluten-free, whether by choice or by necessity, you end up missing out on a lot of things. Some are things that it’s probably better to do without, like the majority of a fast-food menu. Some are little indulgences you don’t even think of until you can’t have them anymore.

Regular bagels are one of those indulgences.

Don’t get me wrong, there are companies that make gluten free bagels. But I can’t just go to the local bagel joint and pick up a quick meal, nor can I grab my choice of flavors from the bag brought home for the family over the holidays. It’s not one of those things I moon over constantly, but I do feel a slight twinge of sadness when I can’t partake.

Luckily for me, the genius at The Food in My Beard has my back. An everything-bagel mac and cheese? Um, yes!

In preparing to do this recipe, I found two companies that make a gluten-free everything-bagel. I used the one made by Udi’s, as I’ve had their plain bagels and enjoyed them. Katz also makes one. If you know of others, drop me a line!

 

Everything Bagel Mac and Cheese (from The Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • 12 oz cream cheese (1 and a half packages)
  • 8 oz fontina cheese (our grocery store didn’t have any, but a quick search said you can use provolone, gruyere, or gouda as a replacement; I used gruyere)
  • 8 oz jack cheese (I assumed this meant monterey jack)
  • 1 cup cream (I used Half-and-Half)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (I never saw where this went in the recipe, so I left it out)
  • 12 scallions
  • 2 white onions
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 1.5 tablespoons poppy seed
  • 1.5 tablespoons sesame seed
  • 2 everything bagels
  • 1 pound elbow pasta (I used corn elbows)
  • pecorino romano

Directions

Chop the onion and garlic. On a large baking sheet mix the onion and garlic with a small amount of oil and salt. Bake at 350, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy. Should take about an hour at least. When just about browned, mix in the sesame and poppy seeds, and cook another 5-10 minutes to lightly toast.

Mix together the cream, fontina, jack, and cream cheeses. Chop the scallions and add to the mixture.

Boil some salted water and add the pasta. Mix and cook. When the pasta has a few more minutes of cooking time, scoop about 1/2 cup of pasta water into the cheeses. Mix well to get everything to start melting. Finally strain the pasta and add it. Mix well and all the cheeses should have melted and formed a sauce.

Pour into a baking dish. Mix in the cooked everything bagel spice mixture(you may not want all of it in there, use discretion and taste). Finally, toast the bagels and food process to crumbs. Use this mixture as breadcrumbs on top of the pasta. Also top with pecorino romano. Bake at 500 for about 10 minutes until bubbly, browned, and delicious.IMG_7387

 

VERDICT: 3.5/5
One downside to this recipe is mine, not the original chef’s: I toasted my gluten-free bagels twice and they still wouldn’t crumble. I ended up tearing them into pieces, but it was more like croutons than bread crumbs. I kind of picked them off the top and ate them separate from the mac itself. If you can have regular bagels, this will probably work better for you.

As for the main bulk of the recipe, you better be sure you like onions and scallions and garlic, because the flavor is pronounced. In fact, despite the fact that this is a mac and cheese, the seasoning was much more pronounced as a flavor than the cheese sauce. This is not a bad thing, but keep this in mind.

I asked Loverman what he thought of the recipe. He gave it a simple “not bad,” then proceeded to have seconds.

 

Hey!  I finally made it to 52 recipes!  Have a recipe I would try out? Let me know!


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 17: Lightened-Up (Allegedly) Four Cheese Mac and Cheese

You may notice that the caveat “allegedly” has been included in the title of this mac and cheese.  That was not in the original title; I added it because I can’t see how this is all that light.  But I am no expert on nutrition (heck, I write a mac and cheese blog, afterall).  I suppose dividing the portions into ramekins is what makes it light – forced portion control, after all.  Regardless, it tickled me to have a good reason to use my new ramekins.  I love breaking in new kitchen goodies, don’t you?

Lightened-Up Four Cheese Mac and Cheese (from How Sweet Eats)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole wheat pasta, cooked (unless you can’t have gluten; I used brown rice spirals.  4c was maybe 12oz)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour (I use Pamela’s)
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch (Optional; I did use it though)
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated smoked cheddar cheese (I used apple smokedcheddar, as it was the first smoked cheddar I found)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 oz brie cheese (I used a buttery medium brie, as I know that I like it)
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 400.

Separate cooked pasta into 4 ramekins.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour to create a roux. Once smooth, add in skim milk and heavy cream, continuing to stir until warm. Add in gruyere and cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth. If sauce it not think enough, whisk in cornstarch until desired consistency is reached (I added it at the end of the cheese mixture, as it seemed too thin for my tastes). Stir in 1/4 cup parmesan and 2 oz of brie. Add in nutmeg and salt and pepper, if needed.

Pour cheese sauce over pasta in each ramekin (I had a fair amount leftover; not all would fit in the ramekins). Top with remaining parmesan and brie. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Broil for 2 minutes to brown cheese on top. (I didn’t broil because mine was already brown at the top)

Ooh... Ramekins...

Verdict: 2.5/5

This wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either.  Sadly, I can’t give a much more ringing endorsement than that.  The texture was a little one-note and could have benefited from being broken up by breadcrumbs or a protein or something.  But more than that for me, the smoked cheddar was way too overwhelming.  I like gruyere in mac and cheese, and I like parmesan and brie – but that smoked cheddar was unpleasant to me – the flavor an odd mix of smoky and almost bitter-umami.  Maybe it was just the type of cheddar – but hey, if you guys like it, you’d probably like it!  It might taste better to me using a regular cheddar or a sharp cheddar.  So maybe I should try it over like that.

Anyway, just not my cup of tea.  All of these ratings are subjective to my personal tastes, so who knows – it could be something you folks enjoy!


Recipe 12: Pork Belly Mac and Cheese

Hello, Weekly Mackers.  Have you missed me?  I feel like it’s been too long since I last posted.  I don’t want to fall behind on this challenge!  I hope I have not left y’all like this in my absence:

Anyway, have y’all been following me on Facebook?  If so, you know that I have been super-excited about making this recipe.  It involves pork belly, which, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a giant slab of bacon before it gets sliced into strips.  I clarify this because one of my friends, who was going to be present at the get-together at which this mac was to be served, asked his wife, “So… what is pork belly?  Is it, like, pork guts or something?  Am I going to like this?”  She assured him he would.

This was another recipe from Food in My Beard – the third I have made.  I blame the author, Dan, for offering so many tempting variations on mac and cheese.  I am going to have to take a forced haitus from it – not because it is bad (unless by “bad” you mean “so bad that it’s AWESOME”), but just to add some new sources.  Oh don’t worry; I shall return in due time.

The website says this recipe “Feeds probably about 5 fatties or up to 8 normal adults.”  I love that description – partly because I know I have at times marveled over recommended serving sizes (“How is that one serving?!  Are they feeding an anorexic five-year old?!”).  At our get-together, there were eight food-loving adults, seven of which partook of the mac (one does not eat red meat), and a toddler who also had some.  There was only one small helping left at the end of the night.  If most of us had not loaded up on appetizers (and OK, salad too), I am thinking it all would have been gone.

Pork Belly Mac and Cheese (from Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • Mesa BBQ sauce (recipe here.  I used a Memphis-style BBQ sauce from the store instead; it’s 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 lb pasta, elbow macaroni is good (I used rice elbows)
  • ½ lb gruyere
  • ½ lb mozzarella
  • 1 ½ lb cheddar.
  • Breadcrumbs (gluten-free for me)
  • Parmesan (I confess, I used “parmesan” from a green shaky-tube, as I did not have fresh)
  • 1 head cauliflower (I used a frozen bag from our CSA; it seemed like about a head)
  • 1 ½ lbs pork belly
  • Red onion
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour (I used Pamela’s)
  • 3 cups milk (I used skim)

Directions

Place the sauce in a deep pot.
Sear the pork belly on all sides in a very hot pan.
Add pork to pot with sauce and simmer on low partially covered for about an hour and a half. Add water if pork is not fully covered.
Grate and combine all cheeses
Bring water to a boil, cook pasta 3 minutes less then box says
Heat and whisk 3 tablespoons of butter and flour on medium low until combined and lump free. About 5 minutes.
Add 3 cups of milk, simmer for 5 minutes
Add most of the cheese. Stir till somewhat smooth
Remove pork belly from braising liquid
Dice and remove unwanted parts (if there are any), return to sauce with cauliflower and a small amount of diced red onion.
Drain pasta and put in baking dish
Add pork belly, cauliflower, and red onion with its coating of sauce
Add cheese mixture
Fold and mix
Grate some parmesan on the top, add the rest of the cheese, if it fits (all of the cheese didn’t fit for us) and some breadcrumbs
Put in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, if the top doesn’t look delicious, broil it for 2 minutes.  (I didn’t need to broil)
The hardest part – let sit for 5 or 10 minutes before scooping!

Here it is cooling.

Verdict: 3/5

You may have noticed I’ve tagged this recipe as being due for a do-over.  It didn’t come out bad by any stretch, but I don’t think I achieved the best possible results in my preparation.  I think that’s due to mistakes I made rather than a fault of the recipe itself.

Like I mentioned, I used a store-bought BBQ sauce.  It had a good flavor (not sure as epic as Dan from Food in My Beard says the Mesa sauce is), but I needed to use water to fully cover my pork belly.  However, it ended up being more water than sauce.  I think if I had cut the pork belly differently, it may have turned out better, but as it was the sauce was so, so watery.  There was only the barest hint of a BBQ flavor, and that really bummed me out.  That would have added such a smoky, slightly tangy element that was missing.

Not only that, but because the meat was cooked in mostly water, the texture was… Odd.  I also could have cut the cauliflower into smaller pieces to make them a bit more manageable.

Y’all know by now I’m not a professional chef, right?  ‘Cause it’s kind of obvious.

All that having been said, some people had seconds.  One person even had thirds and tried to call dibs on the one helping of leftovers remaining.  Even the toddler ate it after insisting on making a napkin-dress for her sippy-cup.  Despite having used shaky-cheese (I’ve been trying to stick with cheese in their natural formats), I loved the topping and could eat it on most macs.

So all in all it was good – but I know it could have been better.  I’ll have to give it another shot in the future.