Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mac Daddy

I seem to hold a certain group of foods in a category that perhaps I should label 'The Ultimate Search'. What might this mean, you ask? Well, there are many dishes out there that I truly enjoy eating - be it a brownie, a juicy burger, an ice cream cone, a nice bowl a' chowdah - and they become such treats when a time comes around when they're available.

There have been too many times though when I've eaten a type of these foods and have been disappointed. The flavor's just not there, the texture's way off, or it's just poorly constructed. With some foods I have come to the end of my line with mediocre versions, and realize that the only way to enjoy them is to go big or go home, and find the ultimate recipe that puts all other attempts to shame. Because if youre not eating it everyday, and save certain things for special occasions, why not enjoy the best? Settle for anything else and you'll be selling yourself short.

This is easier said than done, of course, because the way to find your ultimate favorite requires a lot of tasting and testing along the way, mostly of the ugly and mediocre. But then comes that final moment of epiphany, where you have reached the peak of a food masterpiece, and finally have found peace in your newly reigned food superlative. Isn't victory after trial sweet?

The other night I was lucky enough to find the finish line for one of my 'Ultimate Search' journeys. Not only was I able to eat it, but learn how to make it too, and now I am completely spoiled by Shawn's Mac n' Cheese. Not only does it pass the ooey gooey test, it's actually flavorful from its myriad of cheese contributors, not to mention from the 'secret' ingredients that highlight the cheeses just the way your palate wants them to.

Crust? Oh yah. Crunchy, cheesy, and doused with olive oil. And the leftovers keep getting better. It holds together so well after being refrigerated that I am dangerously tempted to try deep frying squares of it next time it's made. Because we all know that ultimate things deserve a chance in a deep fryer just to see if the stakes can be raised that much higher.

The original recipe is just fine for now though. So you guys could get a sneak peak and have the chance to recreate it at home, I did the best I could to snap some step-shots of this glory in the making. Hopefully they will inspire you enough to finish your Ultimate Search for Mac n' Cheese too. I'll tell you, it's a great feeling to put it in retirement.

Saute a big onion in about a stick of butter until they get nice and soft and sweet, although not browned. Be gentle with that oven burner knob.

In goes a handful of flower (1/4 - 1/2 cup) and a roux starts with a few minutes of cooking out the raw flour taste. Again, no color gained though. Then in goes the heavy cream. A pint and then some for good luck.

The starts of a lovely b├ęchamel.

Be sure to exercise the wrists before sprinkling the magical mound of cheese that's added. Gruyere, swiss, parmesan, cheddar...

A few secret ingredients are added at this point. Hint: one of them is pictured above. Another Hint: The other ingredients rhyme with porcestershire sauce, hustard, and smot sauce.

The macaroni finally enters the game for a nice cheesy swim.

Into a buttered and breadcrumbed baking dish they go. Weeee

Then they are completely covered by more bread crumbs, more thyme, and more parmesan. Oh, and lots of olive oil.

To get that niiice crunchy crust. It goes in a warm-ish oven (350? 375?) for as long as it takes to reach this optimum. First with foil, then without. 'A walk around the orchard + a beer' minutes I'd say.

Crunchy corners: check.

Grilled lemon-garlic-balsamic zucchini as a side was not a bad choice.

Is your fork ready yet?

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