Thursday, September 11, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Grown-up Mac & Cheese

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!

14 comments:

Suzie said...

Yes - I love blue cheese and thought it was great. Welcome to Barefoot Bloggers - I am really enjoying this group.

Prudy said...

Blue cheese like Britney Spears, hoo hoo hee hee ha ha. I also loved your other ironic comment about first buying the powdery stuff and realizing you were wrong-it comes in the freezer! I love reading your posts. Sorry it was too blue for the two of you. It looks delicious-definitely prettier in the individual dishes. I didn't use blue- I swapped our parm, but I do use blue once in a while-but only an ounce or two for a big panfull.
Oh and if your sauce doesn't thicken quick enough, crank up that heat.

Summer said...

Your post made me laugh. The mac and cheese looks delicious, too bad about the blue cheese. I measured the cheese using a food scale and found the ratio to be good, but I like blue cheese. Welcome to the group!

Andrea said...

Cathy, welcome to Barefoot Bloggers! This is such a fun group, I am always impressed with Ina's recipes :) Sorry this was too blue cheesey for you! I really loved reading your post, it had me laughing. Interesting that the blue cheese mellowed a lot after baking for us, the smell was stronger than the taste, but then again I am a blue cheese fan. My husband doesn't really like blue cheese either, hey, at least our guys tried this, right? Sorry your kids weren't too keen on the smelly cheese. I was really surprised 2 out of 3 kids liked this at our house.

Jess said...

I actually love blue cheese, but I stayed away from it this time because I thought it would overwhelm the other cheeses - sounds like that might have been the case! Your post had me laughing.

Anne said...

I skipped the blue cheese and subbed parm but I have to say, your mac and cheese looks absolutely beautiful in those little dishes! Nice job!

Natashya said...

Yours looks great. I am a blue cheese lover but had followed the recipe in the book which did not contain it. I didn't realize they were different until I posted it. You might like the one in Family Style, p 202. She just uses gruyere and cheddar. (and it makes a family size) I am looking forward to making the blue cheese and bacon one soon!

Laura said...

Even though you weren't crazy about this one, it sure looks fabulous! I think I would have loved this one and so would the Hubby as we like blue cheese in or on just about anything savory. I haven't gotten a confirmation email from BB yet, so I didn't participate this week. Hopefully I'll get in on the next round!

Christine said...

The mac and cheese looks delicious! Sorry it wasn't for you. Huge hit in my house, try it again without the blue cheese.

Debinhawaii said...

So sorry it wasn't great for you. I like blue cheese but not too much blue cheese and mine was just about right for me. Yours looks beautiful though and how cool is your husband--helping fix the sauce and managing to compliment something he disliked! ;-)

Rebecca said...

Welcome to Barefoot Bloggers! Dayum, you're right – blue cheese IS the Britney of the cheese world. And I am envying your gratin dishes. So Ina!

Pamela said...

I love that you compared Blue Cheese to Britney Spears! I was grinning from ear to ear. Too funny. It looks pretty good, but I could see how the BC would dominate. Your hubby was sweet, though.

n.o.e said...

I've been thinking about joining BB, but I'm not sure I can handle the reg.s - and the rich recipes! Anyway, I checked out this recipe when it was announced and immediately figured that I'd have to swap the blue cheese. Just cannot abide the stuff. I really wish I liked it, would be so handy, but even a tiny bit ruins a dish for me. Deliaonline has a similar recipe for bacon/cheese/pasta. I may try to combine the two.

Anyway, it's fun to read another Cathy-esque cooking challenge post.
Nancy

1freshstart said...

Oh, MyLanta! I am sitting here cracking up. I love the blue cheese/Britney Spears! You are one funny woman! Welcome to the group! Oh, I can't WAIT to hear what you've got going on.
~Cat

 
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