Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

I've searched near and far, high and low for the best mac and cheese recipe. After extensive research and recipe comparison, I finally compiled what I thought would make the perfect concoction of gooey cheesy heaven.

I decided to debut this dish for Book Club tonight. At one point friends and I used to have a Supper Club - monthly dinners where the host would provide the entree, all the guests divy up side dishes, salad, dessert, appetizer and beverages. Supper Club grew and it became too difficult to organize 15+ people, and with everyone's busy schedules, it fizzled. Recently, I was invited into Book Club, and we decided to add the foodie aspect to it as well, so I have my favorite part of Supper Club back and get to make myself start reading again! Except, I didn't read the book for this month. I decided to make up for my inability to contribute to the stimulating literature conversation with a food offering instead.

Grocery List:
1 package of pasta noodles (I got the wheel-like noodles)
1 teaspoon of Salt
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp of all purpose flour
1 can of evaporated milk (40 calories, as opposed to higher calories using heavy whipping cream)
1/4 cup of low fat milk
1 cup of reserved cooking water
1 cup of grated smoked Gouda cheese
1/4 cup of Fontina cheese
1 tbsp of Nutmeg
Tony's Creole Seasoning (my secret weapon ingredient)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Additional Needs:
Large boiling pot
Cheese grater
Sauce pan
Can-opener (couldn't find mine so I got to know a new neighbor!)
Large mixing bowl

I have both the shredded Monterrey Jack cheese and the heavy whipping cream in this picture because I thought I would be experimenting with it, but then I ended up not needing it at all!

First, turn on some music. I'm a sing and dance-a-long chef. Tonight on the playlist, that country song "Lover Lover (you don't treat me no good no more)" - catchy tune, totally the way I feel about cheese and pasta, my version being "Lover, lover, lover, you make my hips expand too much, ooooo hi-ney, gets huge too." Man, just can't eat this stuff all the time like I could in college, but you know, life is too short to be deprived of really, really good food every now and then!

Take your big boiling pot and dump your pasta in. Fill the water to about 2 inches above the pasta, add 1 tablespoon of salt, then cook on high until noodles are al dente (which is fancy for when the noodles are chewy/bendy/soft). Drain in colander and rinse in cold water once ready, then set aside in large mixing bowl.

While the noodles cook, if you bought blocks of cheese, go ahead and grate it down so you can have all of your cheese at your disposal - I didn't know how much I would end up needing because I thought I would end up doing this to taste, so I grated it all into a bowl. Next, take a sauce pan and prepare a roux by heating 4 Tbs. butter until it foams.

Then add the flour and cook while stirring until light brown, about 1 minute.

Next, begin to add your evaporated milk, a little at a time to allow for the contents of the roux to mix together completely and so that you don't have any lumps.

Once you've added the entire can, add your nutmeg, 3 shakes of salt and 3 shakes of pepper. At this time, add about 1 tablespoon of my secret weapon, Tony's Creole Seasoning.

Mix this all together and you will be ready to start adding your cheese. Measure it out from the bowl into 1 cup and start adding it by the large pinch. By adding the cheese slowly, you are able to incorporate it in a smoother manner, much like the roux, trying to avoid clumps. Taste your cheese sauce as you go so that you can decide if you want more or less. I've decided I have a palate for strong cheese so I added all of the Gouda and probably a few more pinches - I even added a pinch or two of sharp cheddar that I had on hand because as my Wisconsin boy always says "Cheddar makes it Better".

Next, add the low fat milk to the mixture and reserved cooking water to help thin out the sauce.

Taste and make sure you like what your taste buds are telling you, at this time it is up to you to add whatever you feel it needs. I went strong on the sharp cheese tastes and then added more Tony's seasoning to give it a kick. You may prefer to add more salt, pepper, nutmeg or bring a garlic salt into the mix instead.

Once you are happy with your sauce, pour it over your noodles

and mix together!

One the mac has become one with the cheese, I topped with dried basil, the rest of my shredded gouda and the 1/4 cup of shredded fontina cheese. It melts nicely atop your creation. Below are pictures of the final product. If you prefer the taste of breadcrumbs, you can top your mac and cheese with those and bake them at this time - I however feel as though breadcrumbs over mac and cheese is like pouring sand in my pudding. Not my thing.

1 bowl set aside for Mr. Max to enjoy later that evening,

the other the bowl I took with me to Book Club.

As mentioned, I took this to a dinner gathering, so the very creamy consistency that it had at first was lost by the time we served the food, which was 45 min - 1 hour after making. For best results, I would serve immediately. While it does lose that initial gooey, creamy, cheesy aspect to the sauce, the taste is delicious. To re-heat and re-gain that creamy consistency, just add a little milk!

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