Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fancy Game Day Mac & Cheese

Yesterday, Baylor played the University of Texas in one of the most exciting football games our school has seen in a long time!  The game was in Austin, so this was the perfect opportunity to host a watch party!  We asked everyone to bring their favorite game-day snack, so not only was our kitchen hopping with people running in and out to refill their plates during each time-out, but there was food EVERYWHERE.  These are the kitchen moments that make me feel most blessed.  I've never had to worry about a shortage of food, and not everyone can say that.

In honor of the highly anticipated game, I thought the occasion called for an over-the-top dish.  I've seen a few different versions of Mac & Cheese (like here and here) that I've been wanting to try out, so I did a little bit of copying and a little improvising, and with the help of my Sous-chef Ashley, I think the final product turned out pretty good!  I'll try to take more pictures of the process next time - I realize that's a pretty critical part of a food blog, but I keep forgetting!  If anyone wants to volunteer to snap pictures, I can offer you a free dinner. :)

You'll need:
About 6 cups dried macaroni
1 egg
1/4 cup butter (1/2 a stick)
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon ground mustard
2 cups shredded gruyere
2 cups shredded fontina
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 - 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs

First, wash your hands. :)  (Don't be offended... I just get slightly OCD when I step into the kitchen... love things clean!)  Preheat your oven to 350, and lightly grease a 9x11 glass baking dish.

Cook your macaroni for a few minutes less than the time it says on the package.  I cooked my medium shells for about 8 minutes. Remember to add a teaspoon of salt and a couple teaspoons of olive oil as the macaroni cooks - the oil will prevent the pasta from sticking together.  Drain and set aside.

Using a fork, beat the egg in a small bowl for about 30 seconds, and set this aside as well.

Now for the main event - the cheese sauce!  Your motto is going to be "Just keep stirring!"  This is another reason why you've already cooked your pasta, shredded your cheese, and beaten your egg... you need both your hands free for the sauce.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan on low heat and gradually sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly.  This will create a roux, which will help to thicken the cheese sauce... this part always makes me nervous because the mixture has a tendency to burn or clump if your heat is too high or if you're not mixing it constantly, so be careful. :)

After a few minutes of whisking, gradually add the milk and dry mustard, still stirring.  Turn your heat up to medium and whisk for another few minutes until the sauce thickens up a bit.

Okay, this part is fun.  Scoop out about a 1/4 cup of the sauce and gradually beat it into the egg you set aside earlier.  This is called tempering.  (If you pour your egg directly into the hot sauce, it might turn into scrambled eggs, and we don't want that.  Tempering will prevent that from happening!)  Now add the egg/sauce mixture to your pan, and stir it all together.

Here comes the best part - the cheese!  Add it gradually as you (that's right) continue stirring.  Add the salts and pepper.  (Next time I make this, I plan on adding some fresh basil and oregano, too.  Maybe even 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick.)

Gently fold in your pasta.  The smell should be knocking your socks off right about now.  Pour into the greased 9x11 baking dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.  (I like a thin layer, but add however much makes you happy!)  Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Fancy, cheesy, goodness!

Oh, did I mention the Bears won?  30-22, moving us into the #22 spot in the AP poll!

Baylor/UT Watch Party

Sending you love (and a Sic 'Em) from my kitchen.


So glad you stopped by! Before you commit to reading this blog, let me be honest about a few things…

First, the name of my blog…  I had brainstormed blog titles for several weeks, and my brain was only producing the most horrifyingly cheesy options, most of which I was too embarrassed to even say out loud.  When I ran them by friends, they either gave me a scrunched face of disgust or a confusing stare… the names were awful!  Here are a few that’ll entertain you:

Spread love… and icing
Love, joy, and olive oil
Love spreads better than butter
Stir in happiness, fold in joy

Okay, as you get up off the floor and refocus, let me explain… I wanted a name that represented how I feel when I’m in the kitchen, hence words like “love,” “joy,” and “happiness,” but then I got a little carried away trying to incorporate kitchen lingo.  But if I’m being honest, the kitchen really is one of my happy places.  It’s where I go when I’m stressed or upset, but it’s also where I go to celebrate good news and special occasions.  Being in the kitchen with friends around is so much fun; the mood is always happier with yummy smells and the anticipation of sharing a meal.  But cooking by myself has become my quiet time with God.  I can just let my mind wander and think about the ways God is working in my life.  For me, this time is so important and a big part of why I love my kitchen!  So, because of all of these reasons, “Love thy Kitchen” just seemed to fit.

The second thing you must know – I’m not a food expert.  What I know about cooking I learned from watching my mom work her magic in the kitchen.  (She’s ten times the chef I’ll ever be!)  I also like to watch Food Network, read food magazines, and peruse the Web for random recipes, but when it comes down to it – I’m a complete amateur!  So, take my recipes “with a grain of salt.” :)

Finally, know that even more than I love food…which is a lot, I love giving food away. For me, cooking is a sort of love language – it’s how I show people I care about them.  Some people give hugs – I give cupcakes.  So, if you want to try something I’ve made, don’t be shy about asking!  But my hope is that you would recreate things you see on this blog, and learn to love your own kitchen as much as I love mine.  It really is the best room in any house. :)

Sending you love from my kitchen.