Friday, December 11, 2009

The Great Mac-Off of 2009 (in which Mister Man and Sugarlove Girl wrestled it out for the title of "Best Mac 'n Cheese Ever")

2 contestants.
2 totally different approaches.
2 radically different dishes.
2 "unbiased" judges.
No blood shed (nor tears either - now that I think of it).
2 really great recipes for you to try.

And who was the last man standing after all was said and done?

Both of us, that's who.

It was a tie.

A draw. Am I bitter? No. Did I want to win? Of course!

But there was no winner (though one might argue that we were ALL winners, because WHO doesn't LOVE a mac 'n cheese on a cold winter day??)

So now it's up to you gentle reader. Feel like breaking the tie? Write in. Let us know. We'll be standing by/standing off with baited breath!!

Hers: (and yes, there are fried mushrooms and caramelized onions in there. And let me assure you that they taste delicious!)

His: (and yes, you DO detect big chunks o' ham in there. ALSO delicious!)

Sugarlove Girl's Mac 'n Cheese (AKA Best. Mac. EVER.)

Ingredients for the sauce:
4 cups of whole milk
6 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
8 oz extra old (or sharp) white cheddar (grated)
8 oz old orange cheddar (grated)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp dried basil

Ingredients for the Filling:
1 large sweet onion (diced)
About 30 fresh large white mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
4 oz extra old white cheddar cheese

Ingredients For the crispy topping:
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp butter
4 oz old orange cheddar

1 box of Catelli Smart Food macaroni

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a LARGE (4 quart) casserole dish on a cookie sheet or roasting tray (because this will bubble up!)

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain. (I used the Catelli Smart Food because it has fibre in it, therefore ALMOST catapulting this into the health food category!)

Heat a large frying pan, and add olive oil. Toss in the onion and caramelize it by cooking over low heat until it's golden brown and delicious. Transfer to a bowl. Add more oil to the frying pan and a big slab of butter, increase the heat to medium high and throw in the sliced mushrooms. Allow them to brown, sliding them around the pan from time to time. Transfer to a bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it - just warm it. In a larger pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. While whisking, add the warm milk and cook for a minute or so more until it's smooth and a bit thicker. Take the sauce off the element, and add both the orange and white cheddar, the salt, pepper, nutmeg and basil.

In your large casserole dish or baking dish, lay down one layer of macaroni (using about half of the cooked macaroni). Cover this layer with the mushrooms and onions. Cover the mushrooms and onions with the rest of the macaroni. Sprinkle 4 oz of white cheddar over this layer. Pour the sauce slowly over the mac. Allow it to settle and pour some more. You essentially want to pour it until you can see that it has reached the top of the dish.

Sprinkle the last 4 oz of cheddar over the top. Melt the butter in a small pot, and stir in the bread crumbs. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the whole mixture.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is nicely browned.

ALSO: I had some extra sauce, so I made 2 "portable" mac and cheeses in french onion soup bowls. And I brought one to my boss.

Mister Man's Mac 'n Cheese (AKA Pretty good) (For a boy...)

250g macaroni, cooked and drained
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon dry mustard
3 cups 2% milk
1/2 shallot minced very fine
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1 cup chopped ham (1/4" cubes)
1 egg
6 oz aged cheddar (grated)
6 oz smoked gruyere (grated)

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Cook ham in a saute pan until lightly browned, add paprika and saute lightly for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt butter on low-med heat in a sauce pan, whisk in the flour and make a roux. Do not brown. When your roux is a smooth paste, slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. When the milk is hot, add the shallot and simmer (do not boil) for 5 min, then temper in the egg. Remove from heat, add the ham and 3/4 of the cheese mixture plus the noodles, mix well.

Place in a casserole, then top with the remaining cheese mixture. For the topping, melt the butter in a sauce pan, add the bread crumbs and mix well. Cover the mac with the crumbs completely, and pack down very lightly.

Bake @ 350 for +/- 40 min, until the bread topping is lightly browned. Rest for 15 min before serving.

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