Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mac Attack!

So, ok, I eat a lot of pasta, as there is definitely a pattern in most of my posts. This post is no different, but I hope in this case, it will give you ideas on “Food to Go” or “Fast Food” for the whole family. It’s all about making something ahead of time, portioning it out and storing it for those meals to take to work, a snack for the kids after coming home from school or even late night eats.

I don’t think I have ever met anyone who doesn’t love one of the greatest comfort foods of all time, Mac & Cheese. Yeah, yeah, it’s not the healthiest food around, but if it’s in moderation, like all other things in life, indulging yourself every once in a while shouldn’t make you feel guilty.

About twice a year I make myself a “family sized” batch of homemade Mac & Cheese. I have this great recipe I found in Saveur Magazine many years ago and never looked at another recipe again (well that’s not entirely true).

Now you may be asking, since I am single why make so much for myself?

Well, the main reason is that I know that I can portion it and then store each portion in the freezer for when I have that cheesy craving in about 5 minutes. If I decide to take a portion to work, it will thaw by lunch time and I can nuke it for just 2-3 minutes.

That’s less time than if you made a box of the store bought “blue box” or a family sized portion of the frozen “orange box”! The only major difference is that you took one day out of a 6 month timeframe to prepare the dish that can last you several. And I must say, it still only takes about 40 minutes to prep and cook all together.

That is the great reward for planning out meals. BTW Did you all even know that you can freeze your Homemade Mac & Cheese? A 9X11 or 8X11 baking dish will yield about 8 to 10 servings and lasts me about 3, 4 or even 5 months. For Snack portions you may even get 12-14 servings! That’s why I only make 2 batches a year! But those with family members of 4 or more, I would suggest making 2-3 batches of Mac & Cheese, so then you will have plenty in the freezer for all that get the craving. If packaged properly in the freezer, it’s there for the taking in individual servings!

So here is my favorite Mac & Cheese recipe I always turn to…Obviously, you can omit the spicy spice and substitute whole milk for 2% or Heavy Cream to Half & Half or Light Cream. Try different cheeses like Gruyere, Emmentaler, mix different cheeses like Parmesan and Cheddar or Gorgonzola and Emmentaler, Gruyere or Cheddar, whatever your cheese taste buds desire.

So, in the recipe, you want to get Ditalini for the “Tube” Pasta, but it was not available for me at the time, so I used Conchigliette (baby shell pasta). If either types of pasta are not available, you can always use the good ole Elbow Macaroni standby or any other small pasta that the cheese sauce will stick to. Half sized rigatoni or even small penne will work too. But don’t go with the smallest of small pastas like Orzo or Farfamille as that would be way too dense and not work.

I also added some thinly sliced tomato on top, as this was a childhood favorite memory when my father/mother baked homemade Mac & Cheese for the fam. As the "tomato thief", I love that addition to my mac, the tomato adds a nice sweetness that you don’t expect with each bite.

So from the oven:

SAVEUR Macaroni and Cheese
This grown-up version of a childhood favorite is a great way to satisfy that deep-seated yearning for melted cheese.
  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • 6 tbsp. flour
  • 1⁄2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 3⁄4 cups hot milk
  • 4 cups grated cheddar
  • 1 lb. short macaroni, cooked
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh bread crumbs 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Melt 6 tbsp. butter in a medium stainless-steel saucepan over low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes (flour mixture must foam as it cooks, or sauce will taste of raw flour). Stir in cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in hot milk, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. Reduce heat to low and stir in 2 cups of cheese. Cook, stirring, until cheese melts, about 2 minutes.
  2. Combine pasta and sauce in a large bowl, and season with salt. Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over the bottom of a buttered 8" × 11" baking dish. Place one-third of the pasta in the baking dish, top with 1/2 cup of cheese, then repeat, layering pasta and cheese, ending with cheese, making three layers in all.
  3. Pour cream over assembled macaroni and cheese. Melt remaining butter in a skillet. Add bread crumbs, coat with melted butter, and sprinkle over macaroni and cheese. Bake until crust is golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving. 
IMPORTANT - Freezer Storage Options:

FULL BATCH OPTION: You can freeze the entire batch, but if you do, DO NOT BAKE!  Freeze pre-cooked!!!  When ready, take out for cooking, if in Glass/Pyrex, let the glass come to room temperature, if in metal, it is ok to put directly in oven.  Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes at 400 degrees, not 350 as stated above.

PORTION OPTION:  After baking, cool as per the original instructions, then put in refridgerator for 4 to 24 hours to set.  Then portion out the Batch and seal each serving in individual freezer bags.  If you have one of those vaccuum pack devices, even better!  When ready to eat, take a serving/portion and nuke for approx 5 minutes, even if frozen solid.  If the portions are smaller then I would say about 3 minutes in the nuke machine.  Nuke timing will depend on your Nuke Model.

I hope I have given you some ideas on planning and storage for at least one of the best comfort foods out there.  So, even for all of us that are single, it's ok to make a family batch of food, as long as you can portion and store it properly in the freezer for later eats!  Planning will save you time!!!

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