Whenever it’s cold and wet out, I want to write recipe posts. It’s raining here, and temperatures are dropping, so here you go.
I’m not going to assault you with a recipe that involves macaroni, cheese, and horseradish. That sounds like it would fall somewhere between dubious and horrifying. I’ve got two recipes, one a family classic perfect for cold, wet nights, and one new one that we’ve been experimenting with.
Traditional Mac and Cheese
This is Maggie’s family recipe. It’s simple and filling, and keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator. Definitely comfort food, and it gets much of its charm from its simplicity, so don’t crud it up with fancy additions. No ham or bacon, no greens, and above all, no bell peppers. Anyone caught adding peppers to this dish will have their kitchen privileges revoked. Permanently.
Note: This makes enough to feed four hungry people with leftovers. We generally get two dinners and a couple of lunches out of a batch.
- 5 tablespoons butter. Real butter, please, not some weird substitute. We prefer unsalted, but suit yourself there.
- 5 tablespoons flour.
- 5 cups milk. Yes, low fat is acceptable. I don’t think I’d try it with non-fat.
- 20 oz sharp cheddar. Think sharp. Extra sharp. The sharpest you can find. Think big. It’s better to use more cheese than not enough. Traditionally, Cracker Barrel extra sharp is the cheese of choice, but we’ve started using Cougar Gold*.
- Salt and pepper to taste. You don’t need much. Go easier than you initially think, especially on the salt, and double-especially if you’re using Cougar Gold.
- 2 pounds (one bag) of macaroni. Avoid the smallest and largest sizes of noodles; the medium ones hold the cheese best.
- 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs. Panko, of course.
- 2 more tablespoons of butter. You got a problem with butter?
* Cougar Gold contains no actual cougars or cougar milk. It’s made by students at Maggie’s alma mater, Washington State University. And my ex-boss would undoubtedly suggest a warning label at this point: the cheese does sometimes release a little liquid in the can. This can make it slippery (accusations of sliminess have been made). It may make handling difficult or uncomfortable, but the flavor–and post-cooking texture–is not affected.
- Preheat your oven to 350F
- Cook the macaroni according to the package directions, but undercook it slightly. If you normally prefer squishy noodles, stop at al dente; if you normally go for al dente stop at just slightly crunchy.
- Melt the smaller quantity of butter and mix in the breadcrumbs.
- Grate the cheese. Or crumble it. Coarse chop. Whatever floats your boat. The idea is to break it up into small pieces that will melt quickly and evenly. Set a small amount of the cheese aside for later.
- In a small pot, melt the larger quantity of butter over low heat. Stir in the flour until smooth.
- Add the milk, stirring well. When the milk is warm and starting to thicken, increase the heat.
- Add the grated cheese a little at a time, stirring until it melts.
- Here’s where you add that salt and pepper.
- When the macaroni is done, drain it and put it in a large casserole dish. Or if you’re lazy, throw it back in the pot you cooked it in.
- Stir in the cheese sauce.
- Top with the reserved cheese, then further top with the butter/bread crumb mixture.
- Stab the top of the mac and cheese with a fork six to eight times, deeply enough that the top of the fork’s tines are about half an inch below the surface. According to Maggie, this is the most important step. But then, she’s got a thing for aesthetic cooking. Left to herself, she’ll use the reserved cheese and the breadcrumbs to draw pictures. (The actual benefit is that you get little pockets of crunchy breadcrumbs through the dish, instead of having all the crunch on top.)
- Bake for fifteen minutes, then let stand for five.
As I said above, it keeps well in the refrigerator–but it doesn’t freeze well at all. To reheat, put the covered casserole dish in an unheated oven, then turn the oven on to 300F and leave it alone for an hour.
This recipe started life as a horseradish crusted prime rib of beef, courtesy of Tyler Florence. Once we tweaked the proportions a bit, it turned out well–try marinating a steak in it for several hours–but let’s face it: we eat burgers a heck of a lot more often than we do prime rib. Or even steak.
- 5 garlic cloves, smashed. Feel free to adjust to your tastes. And yes, pre-minced garlic is perfectly acceptable. Take that, Tyler.
- 1/4 cup prepared horseradish. Or a little more if you want your meal to bite back.
- Needles from two fresh rosemary sprigs. Feel free to add more. What, you mean you don’t have rosemary growing in your yard? Why not?
- Leaves from four fresh thyme sprigs. You don’t have fresh thyme either? That’s OK, neither do we. The supermarket will be happy to sell you enough thyme to make a dozen batches.
- 3 tablespoons sea salt. Tyler called for half a cup. I presume that either his tastebuds are dead, or he has chronic low blood pressure.
- 1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper. You can cut this back a bit, but despite what I just said about Tyler’s taste buds, don’t cut back too far, especially if you’re using previously-ground pepper.
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
- Ground beef. Figure on 1/3 pound per burger.
- Tyler says to combine all of the ingredients except the beef in a small bowl and mash them into a paste. You can do that if you want. We prefer to use a stick blender. The paste is smoother, and you don’t risk getting bits of rosemary stuck between your teeth.
- In an appropriately-sized bowl, mix the paste with the meat. I suggest you start with one tablespoon per burger; you can always use more (or less if you’re feeling wimpy) on the next batch.
- Form the mixture into patties and broil or grill as you prefer. Note: You probably don’t want your burgers extra rare, as the paste benefits from a bit of cooking. Keep the flipping to minimum. Ideally, you’ll only flip them once.
The paste keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Cover it tightly, though, unless you want everything to taste like horseradish… We suspect–without having tried it–that it will freeze well too.