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is there really one perfect macaroni and cheese?

11 October 2009

dj

Northwest Mac and Cheese

as a nine year old, i thought my macaroni and cheese casserole reigned supreme. a recipe from the tattered pages of my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cookbook, Best-Ever Macaroni and Cheese took Velveeta to previously unattained heights. my family piled on the praise when i served it. or was that because none of them had to cook that night? and over the years, it’s become the most-requested comfort food of family and friends.

about a week ago, as i strolled through the isles of the local organic market, i spied a display of cheese piled high. unable to resist, i made a beeline for the stack, where i discovered Beecher’s Flagship Reserve. crafted by artisan cheesemakers at Pike Place Market in Seattle, the buttery, award-winning Flagship Reserve is pure heaven. i suddenly had an epiphany: to create the supreme northwest macaroni and cheese dish, with the Flagship Reserve as the star ingredient. when i excitedly told my friend Amy about my new cheese discovery, she said, “oh, yeah, i think Beecher’s has a recipe for mac and cheese using Flagship Reserve.” of course they do. Amy found the recipe for me online, and i couldn’t wait for the weekend to get cooking!

my mom and i drove down to Pike Place Market and picked up the cheese at Beecher’s. tPike Market mascothen we went back to the grocery store to complete our shopping. we first maneuvered through the produce section, and nearly bypassed the seafood counter, UNTIL something pretty and pink caught my eye. cropped crabs legsoh, my gosh. are those fresh Alaskan King Crab Legs? just flown in this morning, said our cheery seafood specialist. i looked at my mom and said with some trepidation, let’s splurge. we got a two-pound cluster and headed for the checkout, before there was any further collateral damage. oh, the price of comfort food.

your macaroni and cheese true north may be filled with gooey Velveeta and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, cherry tomatoes and paprika. or your heart may call you to fulfill your mac-and-cheese destiny with some yet unarticulated recipe. for me, both ways are just about perfect.

i can only describe the following recipe as creamy, rich and deliciously decadent. hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Perfect Northwest Macaroni and Cheese
a variation based on a recipe from Pure Flavor (i’d invite you to review the original recipe as the spice blend differs from my approach.)

INGREDIENTS
12 ounces penne pasta

for sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup unbleached, organic flour
3 cups whole milk
14 ounces grated Beecher’s Flagship Reserve cheese (0r cheddar cheese); about 3 1/2 cups
2 ounces grated Beecher’s Just Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

for topping
2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

optional
fresh Alaskan King Crab legs (of the 2-pound cluster purchased, i used half of the actual crab meat in the casserole)

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. butter a 3-quart baking casserole dish. (original recipe recommends a 13-by-9-inch pan. i used a 2-quart casserole and ended up with leftover sauce.)
  3. melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat.
  4. whisk in the flour and continue to whisk for 2 minutes.
  5. slowly add the milk, whisking constantly.
  6. continue to stir, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
  7. remove saucepan from heat.
  8. stir in the cheeses and spices, until all the cheese has melted, and ingredients are incorporated (about 3 minutes).
  9. cook the penne pasta  until al dente; drain the water, and place pasta in a large bowl.
  10. pour the sauce over the pasta, add the crab, and mix carefully but thoroughly.
  11. scrape the pasta into the baking dish.
  12. sprinkle the topping cheeses over the pasta.
  13. sprinkle the bread crumbs over the topping cheeses.
  14. bake uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden.
  15. let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
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3 Comments

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  1. October 12, 2009

    mac & cheese and alaskan crab? now that is inspiration from heaven! can’t wait to try this!

  2. Your sister! #
    October 16, 2009

    I loved your macaroni & cheese when I was growing up!! I can just taste it now. Even with the tomatoes on top!!! I also loved our family tuna noodle casserole with onions & black olives (decorating the top too!). Maybe you should add that recipe and you could use your king crab? I loved Pike’s Place when you took me there and the ‘fish guys’ picked on us!! That was fun!!

    • October 16, 2009

      sisterly advice: um, don’t try the crab in the tuna-noodle casserole recipe. but you might want to try some rotisserie chicken as a tuna substitute.

      getting picked on by fish mongers? always great fun.

      when are you coming to visit again? i’m starting to think about the Thanksgiving menu!

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