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Homemade Macaroni and Cheese: The Topic


Florida Jim
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I had to dig this one up after reading racheld's reference to it in the great "Worst meal at someone's home" thread. 

While I am curious as to the authenticity or not of buttered crumbs on top of mac & cheese, I am more interested in what tastes best.  After years of trying to recreate what I once thought was the gold standard in baked macaroni -- my mother's (who always winged it with a little of this and a little of that) -- and suffering through overwrought messes of too cheesy, curdled trays of the fattening substance, I settled on Martha Stewart's great recipe, tweaked a bit to include more of this cheese and less of that, a combination of six cheeses in total.  Consistent with all previous attempts has been a light topping of buttered panko breadcrumbs.  Martha uses fresh breadcrumbs, but panko work just fine for me.  I now love my mac & cheese and so do my guests.  My husband, however -- who is not Southern, but a Jewish man from the Bronx -- just tolerates it, eating around the crunchy crumb topping each time.  He prefers his mac & cheese creamy throughout.  In fact, he wouldn't mind if I served him the stuff in the blue box instead, were I willing.    :hmmm:

I'm toying with the idea of an alternate mac & cheese recipe for him, and for weeknights, but I usually make so much at one time, we always have some in the freezer.  He might also insist that I always make this creamy alternative.  I hate the idea.  I love the crunchy parts as do most people who have eaten my mac & cheese.  There's plenty of gooey underneath that crunchy goodness, so he can feast on that.  Why should I go out of my way to make something that, IMHO, is second rate when this compromise already exists? 

I'm secretly hoping to convert him over the course of time, but I know this is madness.  The creamy vs crunchy mac & cheese preference is an instinct, deeply ingrained in childhood.  Crap.  :sad:

I like the buttered crumbs on top. I've never heard of mixing them in! Why not make individual mac and cheeses in large ramikins or individual gratin dishes? Then he can have his creamy and you can have your crunchy crumbs.

You can freeze it without crumbs and just add when you are baking.

Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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To clarify, it was the OP, Lan4Dawg, who mixed breadcrumbs into his mac & cheese, not I. I would never do such a thing. I apply a light coating on top and that is all. Blending in breadcrumbs, much like blending in peas or ham or anything other than cheese and bechamel, is quite unappealing to me. :unsure:

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To clarify, it was the OP, Lan4Dawg, who mixed breadcrumbs into his mac & cheese, not I.  I would never do such a thing.  I apply a light coating on top and that is all.  Blending in breadcrumbs, much like blending in peas or ham or anything other than cheese and bechamel, is quite unappealing to me.  :unsure:

Ah well then. It's all good. :biggrin: And you can still make individual servings. :smile:

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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To clarify, it was the OP, Lan4Dawg, who mixed breadcrumbs into his mac & cheese, not I.  I would never do such a thing.  I apply a light coating on top and that is all.  Blending in breadcrumbs, much like blending in peas or ham or anything other than cheese and bechamel, is quite unappealing to me.  :unsure:

Ah well then. It's all good. :biggrin: And you can still make individual servings. :smile:

My mom, who had to cook for a vegetarian husband and 2 carniverous kids, used to make a mac and cheese to "clean up the fridge" of the bits and pieces of the left over cheeses. She'd make a becheamel sauce, stir in the broken up chunks of cheeses, and pour the whole mess over the cooked macaroni, and then plop the whole thing into the oven. The semi melted chunks of cheeses would ooze into the sauce, and the macaroni on the top would brown and get crunchy. I "kick this up a notch" by adding finely minced onions and dry mustard to the flour in the bechamel; and Dayum, is it good!

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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well my oh my oh my oh my.....

have we not started a rhubarb of epic proportions--yet again! I can not believe this ancient memory was dragged kicking and screaming fr/ e-gullet heaven (or hell depending.....) and brought back to see the light of day.

To be clear--and since I started the mess I feel obligated to put away the broom and just add another heaping, helping to the mix--I make white sauce w/ shredded carrots, celery, and onion b/c I learned that fr/ a chef friend who felt it added to the flavor of the sauce. He would essentially caramelize the vegetables in butter before adding the flour so you get a bit of sweet texture in the sauce. No one ever complained about his white sauce and no one has ever complained about mine so we must be doing some thing right--if a tad unusual. As for the bread crumbs I realized that I add them for a hint of texture simply b/c I am used to bread crumbs in my mac & cheese fr/ when I was a child. My frugal Mother--and w/ three growing boys and a husband to feed she had to be--would stretch the food budget by adding lightly toasted bread crumbs to a lot of things including macaroni & cheese. I just enjoyed the added bit of texture and continued to make it that way. I have been known to make a crust of bread crumbs in the pan as well as sprinkle some on top for a bit of delightful crunchiness--no finger nails have been harmed in my making M&C (except the one time while grating cheese....but I fished it out).

Of course all of it is moot as it is June and we turned on the air conditioning which means we do not turn on the oven. As far as I am concerned you might as well store un-used dishes in the oven during the summer months as I turn it on only in an emergency situation (like when I have to have a Fuss biscuit or the Rev requires a coconut cake for Fathers' Day) and then only at night when the temperature out side drops to a reasonable level. That means we do M&C on the stove top (I like Alton's receipt for that) and no bread crumbs....but I do like a little bit of horse radish added to the mix so light in to that one why dontcha!

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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I had to dig this one up after reading racheld's reference to it in the great "Worst meal at someone's home" thread. 

WhaddI say? Somebody refresh my senile brain---only thing I remember mentioning about M&C at all is the cup-of-sugar pan inflicted on guests by Aunt Polly.

(I wish that little green Urp-smiley would print on here).

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WhaddI say?  Somebody refresh my senile brain---only thing I remember mentioning about M&C at all is the cup-of-sugar pan inflicted on guests by Aunt Polly.   

From page 22:

And just seeing the "crumbs on top" debate on another thread was a deja yuk of the crunchy, grainy, sugary texture of those unfortunate sugar-crusted elbows baked on top til dessicated.

Thanks for turning me on to this thread. :cool:

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I'm siding with your BETTER half. I had never seen bread crumbs anywhere near Mac & Cheese until I followed the recipe in the Armed Services Recipe Index(written by a yankee I'm sure).

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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  • 2 weeks later...

My family (in TN) has always just referred to the breadcrumb kind as baked macaroni, as someone else said. In fact, typically my grandma would just make a quicker, goopier (albeit delicious) version atop the stove, and then a slightly more elaborate baked version for bigger dinners or holidays.

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Exactly. Though my Mom ever subscribed to the stovetop version, draining the spaghetti and putting it back into the pot, then throwing on the grated cheese, stick of butter, and a big glug of Pet milk. That sat for a few minutes, back on the same burner (now turned off but still hot) until everything was melty and gooey, then all was stirred gently into a creamy, messy dish that was a part of EVERY holiday.

Easter ham and asparagus---that yellow mac and cheese just looks so PRETTY with the pink and green. Fourth of July---potato salad and a big crusty pan of bacon-topped baked beans---well, the children might want some mac and cheese.

No matter that Christmas Dinner or Thanksgiving automatically called for dressing, sweet potatoes, and all manner of other starches, the spaghetti and cheese made an appearance, in the little hotel pan of countless holidays before, sitting on the stove as a part of an immense parade of rich Southern dishes that stretched all around the kitchen counter.

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It turns out that my preference for breadcrumbs atop my mac & cheese / baked macaroni had to do with Stouffer's, or Howard Johnson -- not my mom! She insists she never sprinkled it with breadcrumbs either, just more cheese and a little paprika. Come to think of it, I did eat the frozen dinner variety mac & cheese more often as a child than I ever did my mother's, mostly because she only prepared it on special occasions.

I guess you can't blame your parents for everything. :raz:

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  • 5 months later...
My favorite mac&cheese comes from an old TV episode by Pierre Franey (of all people) who made it with Smithfield ham, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, three kinds of cheddar, and cream (of course!). I make it once or twice a year, and it is wonderful. I wish I could find the original recipe, but until then I do what I remember from the show.

Ray

Ray, in The NY Times archives Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet column of January 6, 1988 has a mac & cheese with the ingredients you describe. There is a similar column from May 12, 1993. He recalls his French childhood version in both recipe introductions and they were probably part of the PBS show you remember.

No wonder you’ve tried to recreate the dish for years, it sounds absolutely wonderful.

Here are the links NYT Jan 6 1988

and NYT May 12 1993

I have most of his books and the only one with mac & cheese is Cuisine Rapide with a simpler Parmesan cheese version.

Bumping this topic so that Ray can see this old response, in case he checks in again. So cool that you were able to find this recipe for him. :cool:

I'm making mac & cheese this Saturday for a little get-together with some friends. I'm smoking some pork ribs on my WSM (first time using it), frying some Popeye's style chicken, and making mac & cheese. They're theme foods for the day's sporting events -- the Kentucky Derby and the night race (NASCAR) in Richmond. (Because I like alliteration, I like to make ribs for the Richmond race. :rolleyes: ) I'm also making KFC style coleslaw, cider donuts and ice cream sandwiches. Can't wait!

I finally read the new Mac & Cheese recipe in NYT Nov 26, 2008 using Humboldt Fog, a fabulous blue from California that comes at a fabulous price.

The recipe calls for a total of 20 ounces of HFog which - in my area - costs at least $32 for a pound and a quarter. At four servings we're looking at about ten bucks a plate. Does anyone else find this a tad over the top or am I just a buzzkill here? :huh:

Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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... The recipe calls for a total of 20 ounces of HFog which - in my area - costs at least $32 for a pound and a quarter.  At four servings we're looking at about ten bucks a plate.  Does anyone else find this a tad over the top...?

I believe HF is a blue goat cheese, anyway the artisanal firm making it is known for Chevres.

One cool thing about cooking is you can improvise. Once (it may be earlier in this thread) after getting too much of (good) cheeses for a cheese platter -- Stilton, aged Gouda, farmhouse Cheddar, etc. -- I shredded the leftovers, let them come to room temperature so they wouldn't cool the pasta too much, and tossed them with just-cooked noodles. Nothing else, no milk or eggs etc. (maybe a dash of pepper sauce, the usual "secret ingredient" in cheese dishes) and it was delicious.

Julia Child once said of improvisation, "Now you are really cooking!"

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I believe HF is a blue goat cheese, anyway the artisanal firm making it is known for Chevres.

Indeed it is, and a favorite of mine, but I buy it in portions the size of a chestnut and use it sparingly as an accent.

What, therefore, would be a creative - and cheaper - substitute in a mac & cheese venue that would accomplish the same, or close, subtle effect?

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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I believe HF is a blue goat cheese, anyway the artisanal firm making it is known for Chevres.

Indeed it is, and a favorite of mine, but I buy it in portions the size of a chestnut and use it sparingly as an accent.

What, therefore, would be a creative - and cheaper - substitute in a mac & cheese venue that would accomplish the same, or close, subtle effect?

A mix of a bit of blue brie and a bit of ordinary goat cheese?

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Indeed [Humbolt Fog is] a favorite of mine, but I buy it in portions the size of a chestnut and use it sparingly as an accent.

What, therefore, would be a creative - and cheaper - substitute in a mac & cheese venue that would accomplish the same, or close, subtle effect?

A good challenge. Underline "creative." (I've learned a lot about cooking through trying things.) dougal's suggestion of blue brie plus goat. Or ordinary brie, or Camembert, plus goat. But also, blue cheeses per se add such character to M&C in general that if you look closely you'll see them included in some commercial M&C cheese powders even when not cited on the label.

Front matter in the venerable US Gourmet Cook Book (Gourmet, Inc., 1950) identified three motives for substitutions in recipes, arguing that false economy resulted from fake ingredients, preference yields interesting variations, but expediency was the mother of invention: "Many a culinary masterpiece was invented because one bottle was empty and another full."

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While I didn't read this entire thread, I too am a big M&C fan.

Most recipes I've read tend to overthink the whole concept of the dish.

All you need is:

Semi cooked pasta

A good Bechamel sauce

several of your favorite cheeses

breadcrumbs (fresh or panko...not the powder junk)

butter

salt & pepper

The rest is up to you. A couple things I've done which have been successful (only do one of these...not all at once):

-Brush baking dish with truffle oil.

-Crisp some bacon, brush baking dish with bacon grease, mix bacon into breadcrumbs (only goes on top so they don't mush)

-Add lobster roe to bechamel, and a layer of raw lobster meat in the middle of the pasta before baking.

-Taleggio, fresh mozz, parm and wild mushrooms...amazing.

Aww man, now i'm craving some M&C

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Most recipes I've read tend to overthink the whole concept of the dish. / All you need is: Semi cooked pasta / A good Bechamel sauce / several of your favorite cheeses / breadcrumbs (fresh or panko...not the powder junk) / butter / salt & pepper
Actually that's still a complicated recipe compared to just cheeses and pasta (older and more traditional in some regions -- many Europeans love macaroni and cheese, in various forms, for instance). I'm being the devil's advocate, of course, because these different versions (with increasing additions: cream, Béchamel, eggs, etc.) have different textures that people like. Don't forget the hint of pepper sauce. Among others, James Beard pointed out that a little hot pepper sauce, below the level perceptible as hot in the final dish, is a standard commercial-kitchen technique to brighten up the cheese flavor.
I like Alton Brown's recipe with a good sharp white cheddar.
Yes, it surfaces every few postings, lately. It must be pretty good. (It's also a reminder of the wisdom of RFC1855's classic advice (sec. 3.1.3) to "Read all of a discussion in progress ... before posting replies." A burden that grows along with the thread ... but so does the value of the content! :smile:
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  • 1 month later...

Has anyone here tried making the pasta/sauce for macaroni and cheese by first cooking the pasta risotto-style, and then adding cheese? I have experimented with different mac n' cheese styles for years (including white-sauce based and egg/evaporated milk based). Recently, it occurred to me that I could create a starch thickened sauce, similar to a bechamel, if I cooked pasta "risotto-style," using milk (or some milk) instead of water. I could then add some cheese at the end. The predicted advantage to this technique would be that the sauce would be extremely smooth, and perhaps less heavy than a bechamel.

I experimented recently, making a "stove-top" version of mac n' cheese. I cooked dry pasta slowly in small amounts of heated chicken-stock and water. When the pasta was slightly more raw than al dente, I switched from chicken-stock/water to milk. When the pasta was cooked, it was well coated with a sauce that was thick and smooth, but lighter than a bechamel. I threw in grated cheese. It made a nice mac n' cheese indeed. I'd like to try this method in a baked mac n' cheese, but before I do I'm wondering if anyone can offer any input on how well the method will work.

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Par-cook the pasta then finish in oven is my thinking.

So, in your previous experiment...Switch over from the stock/milk conjure to the chicken stock sooner. Then perhaps fold in cheese sooner (mornay) and top and finish in oven.

Should be interesting nonetheless; quite a new way to approach an old classic for sure.

Jim

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