July 14th is Bastille Day in France but in the United States it is Macaroni Day. What better way to consume your macaroni than in the All American Favorite – Macaroni and Cheese. There are many ways in which you can make this yummy dish and there is a whole range of pasta shapes that one can use. One of the favorites of my family is Wagon Wheels, the shape that is reminiscent of the American Pioneer’s trek westward.
Macaroni and Cheese is traditionally made with Cheddar Cheese, but the addition of other cheese gives more depth of flavor and creaminess. To make Mac & Cheese you will need:
½ lb. Pasta
½ lb. Cheddar Cheese
¼ lb. Gouda or Cream Cheese (for creaminess)
4 Tbsps. unsalted Butter
4 Tbsps. All-Purpose Flour
2 cups Milk, Cream or Half & Half
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
Dash Worcestershire Sauce
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
Bring at least 4 quarts of salted water to a rapid boil. The salt adds flavor to the pasta and also increases the temperature point of the water, thus making the pasta cook faster. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add the Pasta, stir and continue boiling (uncovered) for anywhere from 8 – 12 minutes. (This will depend on the pasta used) It can be just a tad undercooked if the Mac & Cheese is to go into the oven. All pasta should be cooked to ‘al dente’ which gives it just a little bite.
While the Pasta is cooking, begin making your Cheese Sauce. Shred your Cheese if you purchased block cheese and set it aside.
In the photo above, the Cheese is sitll in the Food Processor but with the blade removed.
Dice your Onion (about ¼ cup will do); using the Onion is optional but it does give nice flavor to the cheese.
Use a large Saucepan and melt the Butter over low heat; add the Onion and cook until soft. Next stir in the Flour and continue stirring until a paste is formed. Slowly add the Milk, stirring continuously. If the mixture seems to be a little lumpy, use your whisk to smooth it out. Cook and stir until the mixture thickens (it should be able to coat the back of a metal spoon). Once the White Sauce is of the desired consistency, add the Shredded Cheese and the Cream Cheese. If Gouda is used instead of Cream Cheese, this should be shredded along with the Cheddar Cheese.
Shut the heat off and continue stirring until all the Cheese is melted. Add the Mustard, Worcestershire and Salt and White Pepper to taste. (Approximately 1 tsp. Salt and ½ tsp. White Pepper)
Pour the cooked Pasta into a colander and shake out all the water.
If you don’t add the Cheese Sauce immediately, rinse the Pasta with warm water to keep it from sticking together. Return the Pasta to its cooking pot and slowly add the Cheese Sauce. Gently mix, over and under, to coat all the macaroni.
Transfer the Cheese coated Pasta to a baking dish. About ½ hour before serving time, place the dish in the oven and heat until the Mac & Cheese is thoroughly heated through. (This will take about 20 minutes) Mac & Cheese can be made early in the day or the night before, but be sure to refrigerate it until ready to use. If you do refrigerate it, allow the dish to warm up before baking or place it uncovered, in a cold oven and then turn the oven on. This will allow the dish to warm up slowly without being stressed to the point of breaking.
This is just one way to enjoy Macaroni. You can use any shape pasta you desired and any combination of cheeses. So enjoy Macaroni Day with your own creation of Mac & Cheese or a Macaroni Salad.
Sunday, March 18 – 2012:
Today is David’s Birthday and since I invited him for dinner I also asked him to choose what he would like for dinner. He had lost 30 lbs. since December and thought this would be a good day to indulge himself, just this once! So Dinner was Lobster Lasagna, a Pineapple and Artisan Lettuce Salad with (the dressing is going to remain secret) and Sweet Potato Beignets for dessert. I added rustic Olive bread to the menu.
#1: Peeled and cubed the Sweet Potato and cooked it along with 6 ounces of Butternut Squash in salted Water. Once it came to a boil, I shut off the heat and let it sit, covered, on the stove until I needed to use it.
#2: I had some last minute shopping to do, so went to the market and got back by 9:30 and immediately continued with the food prep which went as follows:
#3: Using the Food Processor in a sequence designed to avoid repetitive washing, Shredded the Parmesan Regiano, then sliced the fresh Mozzarella with the thick slicing blade. (Fresh Mozzarella does not shred well unless it is half frozen. Processing it with the slicing blade, ends up with it being half sliced and half shredded which is perfect for Lasagna.
#4: Made the Basil Pasta Dough and wrapped it and set aside to rest.
#5: Made the Olive Bread Dough and placed in greased bowl with plastic wrap in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk.
#6: Made the Dough for the Beignets, covered it with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator for the dough to raise up.
#7: Removed the two Lobster Tails from the shell (froze the shells for later use to make seafood stock), cut up into bite-sized pieces and then marinated with Garlic, Basil, Lemon Juice and Olive Oil. Covered with plastic wrap and placed in refrigerator. (Never marinate seafood for more than 20-30 minutes max!)
#8. Brought in my old Kitchen Aid and attached the Pasta Roller; placed a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil and set out some clean dish cloths, one of them dampened.
#9: David came over and we started rolling out the Pasta Dough, one fourth of the recipe at a time.
#10: While David was running the Pasta Dough through the first 2 numbers on the Pasta Machine, I started sautéing the Lobster. Once that was done, I placed the cooked Lobster meat in a covered dish and proceeded to help David with the Pasta.
#11: We decided that it was easier to roll all the Dough one number at a time rather than having to keep changing the numbers. Once we got to #4, we cooked a small piece to test it. It was not thin enough so we went to 5, repeated the test and then settled on #6 for pasta thin enough not to obscure the sauce, but thick enough to hold up under the sauce and through cutting and serving.
#12: While David rolled, I cooked and placed the cooked pasta on clean dish towels. Fresh Pasta is cooked when it floats to the surface of the boiling water. This took about 20 seconds, as opposed to the 10-12 minutes that dry pasta takes to cook.
#13: We wanted the Lasagna to have enough layers to give each person a substantial slice and to be able to taste the lobster, so I decided to use just a 9 x 12 lasagna pan.
#14: Once the Pasta was cooked, it was time to finish cooking the Sauce for the Lobster. Using the same pan the Lobster was cooked in and with the remnants of the cooking liquid, I heated the pan and added ¾ cup of Madeira Wine to the pan, and over high heat reduced the liquid to about one/fourth of its original volume. I then added 1 ½ pints of Heavy Cream and cooked it over a medium-high heat until it reduced by approximately one- fourth. I then added approximately one cup of Parmesan Cheese, cooked it until the Cheese blended in and then added back the Lobster Meat.
#15: We assembled the Lasagna with alternating layers of Pasta, Lobster Sauce and Mozzarella Cheese. We alternated the direction of the Pasta strips so that the Lasagna would stay together when we cut and served it.
#16: After the Lasagna was assembled, covered and refrigerated, David did the accumulated dishes and ran the dish washed while I punched down the Bread Dough and shaped it into loaves which I then set aside to raise until doubled in bulk. Since it was warm in the kitchen, I knew it would not take long for the Bread to rise, so while the bread was rising, I heated the Oven with the Baking Stone in it. The stone takes at least 30 minutes (preferably longer) to heat up at 500 degrees.
#17: At this point, David had to leave to get some things done and I decided to take a short rest.
#18: Sprinkled Cornmeal on the Peel (wooden paddle for bread and pizza) and placed the first loaf of bread on it and then slid it into the oven to bake. When the first loaf was done, I then baked the second loaf.
#19: Around 3 PM I cooked the Shrimp for the appetizer and then washed the vegetables for the Salad and made the Salad Dressing. This Salad and Dressing was so unusual, that I cannot divulge the ingredients or the Dressing here because I am going to save it for a future class or maybe a book or magazine article.
#20: Trimmed Asparagus and placed in baking pan with Olive Oil, Sea Salt and freshly chopped Basil.
#21: Cleaned 1 ½ lbs. Brown Mushrooms, quartered them and sautéed in Garlic, Olive Oil and Basil then set aside for a quick re-heat to serve at dinner.
#22: Around 4:30 PM Ev set the table and I made the Dip for the cold cooked Shrimp that was our snacking Appetizer and I removed the Lasagna from the refrigerator to warm up. I finished the Salad Prep, leaving the Dressing to go on at the last minute.
#23: People started arriving around 5 and we set out the Shrimp and Beverages. The Lasagna went into the oven.
#24: The Lasagna came out of the oven at 5:45 and the Asparagus went in. Bread was then sliced. We served the Salad and fresh Olive Bread and when that course was completed the Lasagna, Asparagus and reheated Mushrooms were brought to the table and everyone indulged in this extremely satisfying meal, even though it was loaded with calories. Because it was so rich, the pieces were cut into moderate sizes, allowing those who wanted more to have seconds and those who always ate less to have their smaller portions.
#25: When the main portion of the Dinner was finished, we cleared the table, Tina did the dishes, Arthur wrapped the few leftovers there were and I heated the Oil to cook the Sweet Potato Beignets.
#26: The Beignets were served with French Vanilla Ice Cream and a Cinnamon/Anise Sauce to drizzle over the Beignets. We all had a good time and everyone thought the food was delicious. Tina said that she wanted a Birthday Dinner just like this one. Hers last year was Mushroom Lasagna made with Crepes instead of Pasta.
We put a Birthday Candle in David’s Ice Cream and sang Happy Birthday to him. Everyone had a good time and David said he had a great day! It was fun making dinner together. It creates camaraderie and bonding and every family should try it!