Mac ‘n Cheese

I’m a programmer, and I love to code. However I also love to cook. I did not have a good topic to talk about as far as development goes, but I still wanted to get a blog post out there. So today, I’m going to share the recipe and method that I use to make mac ‘n cheese. I’m always tweaking it, but here’s the basic idea.

Mac And Cheese – The Tasty

Things you will probably want:

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1-2 cloves crushed/minced garlic
1/2 diced onion
1 tsp or so chopped cilantro (I use the frozen cubes from Trader Joe’s)
dash of salt
dash of pepper
2 cups milk (up to 1 cup can be replaced with cream for a tastier cheese sauce)
8 oz. cheese (I use random combinations of cheddar, gruyere, gouda… other hard cheeses)
8 oz of large elbow macaroni (or whatever noodle you prefer)
optionally: crumbled cooked bacon, diced cooked sausage, cooked peppers, diced chicken, or other things you like in/on mac n’ cheese.

Doubling it is pretty easy. In general I consider 4 oz of cheese to equal about a cup. There should be equal parts milk, cheese, and macaroni. Flour and butter should each be around 1/8th of the milk/cheese/macaroni. You can adjust the quantities though depending on how you like your roux.

Ok, now on to the steps.

You can boil the pasta as per whatever instructions you have with it before or during creating the sauce, just make sure it’s ready when the sauce is ready.

For the sauce, use some sort of sauce pan and melt the butter under medium heat. Add the flour and stir it with a rubber spatula. What we’re creating in the first step if you’ve never done it before is called a roux. Flour or other starches can be used as a thickener for sauces, however it often has the problem of the flour clumping together into floury lumps that aren’t that appealing if you just add flour to a hot liquid. So instead we mix it with a fat (the butter) to dissolve it first before adding the liquid. Also, uncooked flour will give a starchy flavor that we’re not really looking for, so we’re going to cook the roux.

Blonde Roux

A blonde roux as captured by someone on Flickr. This is about the color we're going for.

It’s going to bubble a lot, and you’re going to want to stir it a lot as well. The rubber spatula is to scrape the bottom of the pan constantly to make sure no part stays on the bottom for too long and burns the roux. If you start to see black specs in it, you’ve burned it and have to start over. I’ve never had that happen, but I’ve read it can do so if you don’t pay enough attention. Also if it starts to smoke, you’ve hit the smoking point of your butter and should lower the heat a bit. Once you have a blond roux, the floury taste should be removed.

An interesting note on roux is that the more that you cook it, the more flavor that the roux will impart on the final dish. However, it also means that the roux will act less as a thickening agent. If you want to get more of the flavor from the roux (by making it darker), but don’t want to lose the thickness of a creamy cheese sauce, increase the quantities of the flour and butter.

After cooking the roux for about 10-15 minutes and having it change color to a light yellow, add in the diced onion. You’ll want to cook the onion in the roux for another 5 minutes or so, until it has turned transulcentish.

Add the garlic and cilantro and cook for a few more minutes. You can also add some salt and pepper at this time if you like that sort of thing.

Next, add the 2 cups milk/cream hybrid. For better results, heat the milk first in either a pot or microwave. Having a hot liquid added to a hot roux will prevent the roux from clumping as it suddenly cools. Even if you use cold milk though, you can eventually break it down again as it heats back up, so don’t worry too much.

Once you add the milk/cream you might want to use a wire wisk to really disperse the roux in the liquid. Stir it for a few minutes, then leave it on medium heat, stirring occasionally until it starts to bubble (nearly boiling).

Once it hits the boiling point the roux’s effect will become noticeable and the sauce will thicken. You can cook it for another minute or so if you like to make sure it’s at its thickest state (don’t leave it too long though).

Lower the heat to low or medium low and start adding the cheese. The cheese should be grated to increase surface area and promote melting. If you add it in slices or cubes, you’ll have to stir like a crazy person and keep it on the heat for way too long to get the stuff to melt. Add the cheese in small batches at a time and let it completely melt between additions.

Once all of the cheese is melted, you can turn the heat off. Place the pasta in a large mixing bowl and add the cheese to it, mixing it together. You can add any of your optional meat/veggie items at this time.

Pour the mixture into one or more lightly greased casserole, or other oven safe dishes. Personally, I often use a 10″ cast iron skillet, but I also use a ceramic dish as well. You can sprinkle more cheese and/or bacon/sausage/whatever on top. Place it in a 375˚ oven for a half hour.

Eat… or whatever else it is you want to do with mac n’ cheese.

Tree

I originally had a picture of a finished Mac 'N Cheese that I cooked in my cast iron, but the picture isn't on this computer. Instead, here's a photo of a sequoia from Yosemite national park.

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