Feeding Frenzy

A professional gastronaut feeds the blogosphere with tales of his culinary adventures - sometimes on-the-job, sometimes just-for-the-hell-of-it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hot Dish Macaroni and Cheese

Margaret McGlothlen (my mother) took eleven years off from working at the bank to raise me through what she and dad figured would be my formative years. During this time she forced herself to cook. She hated it and she wasn’t very good at it. In fact, she was a pretty bad cook. She was usually comfortable with how bad a cook she was except when she felt she had to entertain guests with food. When that happened, she was at once frightened and cranky.

One of a handful of dishes she could make infallibly and without a recipe was Welsh Rarebit. If you’ve made that dish then you know how weird it is that a non-cook would have success with it above all others because Welsh Rarebit breaks* easily. It breaks so easily that hardly anybody makes it anymore. Hers never broke. Ever. And she made it traditionally, which is to say that hers was only stabilized with a bit of egg yolk and contained no starch.

Welsh Rarebit (hers anyway) is a beer-flavored cheddar sauce served over toast points, crisp strips of bacon and tomato slices. That’s the way she made it and it still gives me pleasurable goose-bumps to think about it.

Well. She was and is my angel. I miss her and I love to talk about her. This dish is one of the ways I talk about her. When I was creating the formula for Hot Dish, I did it with her in mind: I added beer to the cheese sauce in tribute to her Rarebit.

On a more, you know, self-aggrandizing note, Rebecca Denn of the Seattle PI named Hot Dish’s Macaroni and Cheese the best in Seattle. This was in an article about the state of Mac and Cheese in our area restaurants, which she generally deplored as either too fussy or too bland. She loved ours. That was a pretty exciting day around the shop. I wish I could have found that article online but no luck.

Hot Dish Macaroni and Cheese

-for Margaret

1 pound penne pasta
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup flour
2 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons Spanish Paprika (smoked, “piccante”)
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
½ cup beer (pale ale)
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup parmesan cheese, freshly shredded
½ teaspoon Spanish Paprika (smoked, “piccante”)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water until al dente. Set aside.

Melt butter over low-to-medium heat. Add flour. Cook flour and butter to make a blond roux. I like to cook roux for 5 – 8 minutes, so this is done slowly. It shouldn’t get brown, only tan. It’s important to cook the roux thoroughly, though, so as to minimize the flour taste in the sauce.

Whisk the salt and paprika in a little bit of the milk until the seasonings are well-dissolved. Stir this into the rest of the milk and add this resulting mixture to the cooked roux. Raise the flame to medium heat and cook as for a very thick, smooth béchamel (white sauce, n'est-ce pas?).

Add the cheese in small portions, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Add the beer.

Combine the cheese sauce and pasta. Smooth this mixture into a greased casserole dish.

Combine the final four ingredients. I like to use home made bread crumbs for this now, but at Hot Dish we used store bought (yes, the stuff in the big cardboard tube). Sprinkle this mixture over the macaroni and cheese.

Bake for about half an hour or until golden brown on top. Don’t over-bake it. It’s possible that the cheese sauce will break* if you do that. Really.

If you truly want to honor my mother, get yourself a bag of miniature chocolate bars – the size you give away at Halloween. Milky Way or Mars Bar. Take one of the bars out of the bag and cut it into fourths. Wrap three of those pieces of candy bar individually in cling wrap and store them in the refrigerator. Eat the fourth piece for dessert. That’s what Margaret would have done. Usually while playing solitaire at the kitchen table.

* A cheese sauce is said to break when the fats and solids in the sauce separate and leave a gloppy mess.


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