This is my first Barefoot Bloggers post, and I could not have been more excited about this week's recipe for Grown-up Mac and Cheese, which was chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl. I love even bad mac and cheese, and for many years thought that all mac and cheese started with tearing open a cheese powder packet. Then I learned that no, that's not true -- you can also get mac and cheese in the freezer section. Eventually, I started cooking myself and realized that you could actually make this stuff all by yourself! Who knew? I've made several different mac and cheese recipes over the years, some better than others, but all of them pretty darn good, in the way that things drowning in butter and mounds of cheese tend to be. I knew that Ina's version would have to be great.
The recipe starts out by saying "Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack." Well, wouldn't you know it -- I got all confused right from the start! What does she mean by "baking rack?" All I could think of was a cooling rack, like the kind you'd put cookies on right out of the oven. I couldn't quite visualize the setup that Ina had in mind, and once I saw that the bacon was just going to get crumbled in the end anyway, I did it the old-fashioned way:
The other thing that kind of tripped me up was the processing of the breadcrumbs and basil for the topping on the casseroles. She said to process the bread into "coarse crumbs," but I am still a food processor novice and think that I produced "fine crumbs." What do you think?
When I am cooking, I usually spend a lot of time worrying about this kind of thing, and it never matters in the end. The things that end up mattering in the end are always the things that I never even think to worry about.
The cheese grating came along just fine, and then it was time to make the sauce. You're supposed to heat up the milk in a small pan, and then whisk together butter and flour in another pan, add the milk to it, and whisk until thickened. Ina says that this should take about two minutes. Well, 2 minutes came and went, and my sauce was thin as the moment it all came together in the pan. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Still thin. I felt like I was making risotto with all that standing and stirring. I started thinking that if I had planned my day better, I could have run down to the DMV and gotten my license renewed in the time that it took this sauce to thicken.
Then my husband, who has not cooked more than a Tostino's frozen pizza in the nearly 10 years that we've been married, walked by, and heard me complain that the sauce was just not thickening. He took one look at my pan, and told me that my problem was that I was using such a large pot, which meant that the liquid was spread over too large of an area, which would slow down the thickening process. Of course he was absolutely right, I switched to a medium pan, and that sauce got right with the thickening program. Humbling. Very humbling.
I added the cheeses, bacon and pasta to the sauce, and transferred everything to a couple of gratin dishes:
And that's when I snuck a little taste, and knew right away that it was going to be too blue-cheesy for my taste. There is less blue cheese in this recipe than cheddar or gruyere, so I was hoping that the blue cheese would not dominate. But it did. I then hoped that the blue cheese would mellow a bit when baked, but no such luck. Blue cheese is a little bit like Britney Spears when she's off the wagon -- it's really really hard not to notice it. This dish wasn't bad, and it would be fabulous if you love blue cheese, but if you aren't a huge blue cheese fan, this is just not the mac and cheese for you. My husband dislikes blue cheese even more than I do, and I could see the pain on his face when he realized it was chock full 'o the stuff, because I think he had been really looking forward to dinner. He ate a few bites of it, and diplomatically told me that he could tell that it was very well done, but as would be the case with very well done liver and onions, the fabulousness of it was lost on him because he doesn't like the dominant ingredient. Isn't he sweet?
Anyway, if I make this again, I will either omit the blue cheese, or use just a tablespoon or two of it. I love gruyere and cheddar, but honestly could not taste them over the raging blue cheese. But I bet that all you blue cheese fans out there have found your new go-to mac & cheese!
10 hours ago