Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Comfort Food with a Twist

Ahhh comfort food. Bringing smiles to faces as long as people have been cooking. We all have our favorites, the things that warm us up on cold days, Mom's famous chicken soup, Gramma's homemade spaghetti sauce, just the favorites, maybe from our childhood, that remind us of good times- you get the idea. For a lot of people that favorite is macaroni and cheese.

Sliced scallions add a light hint of onion under that crunchy
cheesy crumb topping- so delicious!
Now I am not talking about the powdered junk in the blue box. That is about as comforting as a foam cup of dehydrated noodles and reminds a lot of people of starving student days in college. I mean real mac and real cheese, the kind that comes off a block and has to be shredded, and melted, and baked til crusty and delicious. I remember when I first mastered white sauce, many years ago- I made cheese sauce for EVERYTHING. We ate cauliflower and broccoli allllll the time. Any excuse to make cheese sauce was good enough for this young housewife. Even the Velveeta kind reminds me of when my girls were learning how to cook and that was one of their favorite things to make. It's ooey and gooey for sure.

It's all about the CHEESE
For the most part I have never been a big fan of mac and cheese. Maybe it's the fact that it appears on far too many kids menus (usually the powdered junk) and just doesn't seem very........grown up. But I was wrong about that. Choose a unique pasta shape, step out of the comfort zone with cheeses and you can really jazz up this old favorite. I really wanted gemelli but had to settle for rotini, which, happily, worked out much better in the end anyway.

I don't know what got into my head today but mac and cheese was on my mind and I was going to make it no matter what. Maybe because I have been making a lot of different dishes using bechamel, maybe I just wanted something different for a change. I set off to get the few ingredients I didn't have on hand- a macaroni of some kind, and some cheese. Nothing but real cheese will do here, folks. Well, that loaf of cheese-something works, but I don't like it much. Anyway, mild cheddar brings the cheesy goodness, Parmesan brings a salty savory background and pepperjack gives it a kick in the pants. Perfect for us at the Little Lake House. Poured over some rotini pasta and baked til blazing hot it was the perfect side dish for pork chops.

Homemade Mac and Cheese for Grownups
  • 1 lb rotini pasta (I just used about 2/3 of the box)
  • 1/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 scallions, sliced
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • several dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup crushed cornflakes
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Get the rotini going and cook till al dente. Drain.

*Note- I did not use the entire pound of pasta. I wanted to make sure the pasta had plenty of sauce and didn't end up dry. I wanted to keep it creamy.

Ready to go in the oven.
In a large saucepan, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add the scallions and saute for 4 or 5 minutes until softened. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes. You need to cook out the raw flour taste. Add the milk and cook, whisking constantly until sauce thickens and just begins boiling.

Remove from heat and whisk in the Tabasco to taste and stir in the cheeses until melted. Add the rotini. Pour into buttered baking dish. 

That crunchy topping. Toss the butter with the crumbs
before tossing with the cheese.
In a small bowl toss the cornflake crumbs with the 2 tablespoons butter (melted) and the 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Sprinkle over the mac and cheese. Pop in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until the top is browned and crusty and sauce is bubbly hot.

Hot and bubbly......smells amazing!
Let me tell you, the crusty topping is absolutely heavenly. The pasta twirls really held on to the cheesy sauce. Using scallions instead of regular onion kept the onion flavor sweet and not overpowering, a lot like using leeks. The pepperjack cheese added just the slightest heat (kicked up a little by a few shakes of Tabasco sauce) and the Parmesan added its salty, nutty undertone. I just couldn't get over the crunchy topping. 

This recipe makes a nice casserole full of cheesy goodness. We had LOTS leftover so I'd guess 4 to 6 servings. I served it with crumb-crusted pork chops but fried chicken or sliced ham would also be awesome. Taste the sauce before adding the pasta and add Tabasco sauce to heat it up to your taste, or add more diced chilies or jalapenos. Enjoy!

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