Macaroni and Cheese

 

picture of a casserole dish full of macaroni and cheese

Everyone has strong opinions on what constitutes a good macaroni and cheese: the ratios of cheese to milk, the types of cheese, the accent pieces, the topping, etc., etc. At the end of the day it doesn’t really seem to matter, macaroni and cheese will always be ruled by a solid common denominator of being comforting and safe baked pasta. When the outside world seems to loom and the sky begins to look black as night, there is always food like the above. And what better to comfort with, really? Small pasta shapes soak up the smoothest of cheese sauces, one that is filled with Gruyere, aged cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream cheese, and creme fraiche. The latter ingredients add that necessary tang to the recipe that lifts the whole sauce up, a 1/2 cup of blue cheese could also be used to achieve this effect. I have only recently taken to folding the grated cheese in right at the end. This tip came from someone who spends a good chunk of their time making macaroni and cheese for a living and it’s definitely prudent advice; I’ve had nothing but successful silken cheese sauces since adopting this practice.

macaroni and cheese:

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

6 Tbsp. all purpose flour

4 cups of milk

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/3 cup of creme fraiche

1/3 cup of cream cheese

1 Tbsp. salt

2 cups of Gruyere, grated

1 cup of aged cheddar, grated

1 cup of Parmesan, grated

A generous pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

3 cups of dried pasta, cooked according to package directions (I like using small shells or other similarly sized shape)

About 1/2-3/4 cup of Panko crumbs (enough to cover the top of the casserole)

1. Begin by preheating the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions.

3. Melt the butter over medium heat (reserve 2 Tbsp. for the Panko topping) and whisk in the flour all at one. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to periodically whisk the roux, you want it to smell nutty and toasted and for it to be the colour of caramel.

4. Whisk in the milk, a cup at a time, into the butter and flour paste. Whisking constantly, bring the heat up to medium and cook for approximately 5-8 minutes or until thickened. Add the Dijon mustard, creme fraiche, cream cheese, and salt into the béchamel sauce and stir until completely smooth.

5. Butter the sides of a large casserole or baking dish. Combine the grated cheese  and freshly cracked pepper with the béchamel sauce and pour over the pasta, tossing to coat evenly (the sauce will seem thin at this point but will thicken up as the pasta bakes).

6. Cover the top with Panko crumbs, drizzle over the remaining melted butter and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is bubbling and a deep golden brown. Serve very hot with a lemony salad; I’m partial to slivered sweet peppers, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil.

I love this song and I totally forgot about this video! Ian and I found it one night a few years ago and I’ve been trying to remember which song it went with ever since! This is also a good song to play at an inappropriately loud volume and sing along to while you cook dinner in your housecoat.

The Modern Lovers – She Cracked

Pasta with Bacon, Zucchini, and Creme Fraiche

Bacon and Zucchini Pasta

There are some nights when nothing will calm the stresses of your day except fat and carbs, nothing but a warm bowl of pasta covered in the comforting flavours of bacon, creme fraiche, and softly cooked zucchini. When I get home from work and it’s cold and raining I feel an instant need to have a hot shower and get into soft pyjamas. Once these immediate goals are accomplished I put on some music and return to the most pressing need of all, the need to cook with simple and filling ingredients in order to create a sensation of quiet domestic happiness (and this is a sensation I strongly crave after days filled with extroverted chatter.) Creme fraiche, a sort of high fat version of sour cream, is an easy addition creamy sauces as it gives a heavenly and rich mouthfeel but doesn’t carry the risk of separating when heated (unlike yogurt or lower fat sour creams.) You could substitute thinly sliced white button mushrooms for the zucchini and add fresh thyme and basil along with lemon zest and a quick squeeze of lemon juice. If you prefer an aged pecorino in place of the the Reggiano I humbly suggest a good sharp chunk of black peppercorn studded pecorino pepato.

bacon and zucchini pasta with creme fraiche:

3 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces (can be snipped with scissors)

2 tsp. olive oil

1 small zucchini, sliced into thin half moons

1 small red onion, sliced into thin half moons

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 cup of dry white wine or dry vermouth

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1/2 cup of creme fraiche

1/2 tsp. red chilli flakes

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Juice of half a lemon

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Fresh parsley

200 g of dried pasta of your choice

100 g of Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely shredded (plus more for the table)

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining the pasta reserve 1/2 a cup of the pasta water to help thicken the sauce.

2. While the water is heating up cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crispy in a large skillet. Drain the bacon on paper towel and remove the excess bacon fat from the pan.

3. Add the olive oil to the pan and sauté the zucchini, onion, and garlic over medium-high heat until soft. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the chicken stock, white wine or vermouth, creme fraiche, bacon, chili, oregano, salt, a handful of Parmesan leaves, and kosher salt; allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes before stirring in the cooked pasta. Toss to coat and then toss again with the shredded Parmesan cheese. Serve in warmed bowls with extra child flakes, Reggiano, and fresh parsley.

My mom listened to a lot of Suzanne Vega when I was growing up. A lot of it I can remember as the soundtrack for when we would go on road trips to the beach at Grand Bend or Toronto. I would look at the liner notes over and over again in the passenger side of the car, watching the Ontario countryside flash by us as we drove down the highway. Or curled up in the backseat under a beach blanket, skin smelling like sunscreen and campfire, looking at the roaming lights created by lone car head lights in the wide open darkness of rural routes and apple orchards. Suzanne Vega was the first version of a cool person that I can think of really wanting to emulate (one day anyway, at the time I was only 10 years old.) I still want to be like her and I still love her music, I can listen to the album 99.9 F° over and over again without ever tiring of its initial pull; there’s something comforting about music and art that continues to protect as you (and it) gets older.

Suzanne Vega – Rock in This Pocket (Song of David)

Roasted Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup with Garlic Parmesan Croutons

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

2013 ended with busy upward momentum and just these first few days of 2014 have already featured a series of things to look forward to both in terms of freelance writing work and the fact that I’ll be going to Maui for a week with Ian for our honeymoon at the end of January which I am really, really excited about. I hope that the transition to the new year has been a positive one for you and that your holidays were relaxing and full of good company and delicious food.  I took the train to Seattle on December 24th and spent 3 low key days with Ian, my in-laws, and friends before returning to work until New Year’s Eve which was spent eating steak and colouring in Ian’s new colouring books on our living room floor until 2 in the morning.

I have been day dreaming about roasted cauliflower soup lately, especially on a rainy Thursday night when there is something to be said for a pale bowl of creamy roasted cauliflower, sharp white cheddar, and silken creme fraiche soup. The cheese doesn’t have to be cheddar, it could be gruyere, Swiss raclette, young Asiago, or a medium aged goat or sheep gouda if cow dairy bothers you. If you do use cheddar make sure it isn’t too old, anything over 3 years old begins to lose its capacity for even melting. When I first made this soup I was lucky to have on hand enough duck stock for the recipe which produced a luxurious mouth feel due the richness of the duck. However, I realize most people don’t have easy access to duck stock, I only had some because I made it from a duck I had recently roasted (which produced very little meat but left me with 2 cups of rendered fat and 8 litres of stock) and I would suggest vegetable stock in its place. The croutons aren’t required but add some heft to the soup and can be made quickly in your still-hot oven from roasting the cauliflower and garlic. Add an astringent leafy green salad by going heavy on the fresh parsley and lemon juice, finishing with elegant shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and cracked pepper.

roasted cauliflower and cheddar soup:

1 medium sized head of cauliflower, chopped into florets about 1-inch across

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 head of garlic, papers left on but separated into individual cloves

1 bunch of scallions, whites and greens finely chopped

3-4 cups of duck or vegetable stock (depending on how much cauliflower you use and how thick you prefer your soup)

2 cups/250 g of sharp white cheddar, or melting cheese of your choice

200 mL creme fraiche

Juice of half a lemon

Pinch of nutmeg

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Parsley, finely chopped for garnishing

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the cauliflower florets and garlic cloves in their paper over a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and top with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 30-40 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice to ensure even browning.

2. Once the cauliflower is close to being done begin to cook the scallions in the remaining olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower, garlic cloves (squeezed out from their papers, stock, and lemon juice before bringing to a simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Using an immersion blender, or a stand up blender in very small batches with a protective tea towel draped over the top, blitz the scallions, cauliflower, and stock until smooth.

4. Over medium heat stir in the nutmeg, shredded cheese, and creme fraiche until all the cheese has melted and the soup becomes fully emulsified. Serve strewn with parsley, garlic parmesan croutons, and a lemony green salad on the side.

garlic parmesan croutons:

1/2 baguette, sliced diagonally into 2 cm discs

Olive oil for brushing

Good quality garlic powder

Kosher salt

About 1/2 cup of finely grated parmesan

Brush the baguette slices with olive oil and top with garlic powder, kosher salt, and freshly grated parmesan. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 7-10 minutes, checking frequently that they don’t burn. Serve immediately in the cauliflower soup or store for a couple of days in an airtight container at room temperature.

I listen to music that makes me happy while I’m making food will also hopefully make me happy, as if I’m hoping for an especially uplifting Like Water For Chocolate scenario – no tears and sorrow for the recipients of my cooking! I went through a phase (an ongoing one) where I was obsessed with the 4AD record label and this song remains one of my all time favourites. New Wave and boppy, dreamy and bouncy, effortless and seamless; these are all definitive adjectives that come to mind when experiencing Modern English.

Modern English – Someone’s Calling