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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Field Expedient Mac and Cheese

Sometimes, you get out of work at 1 AM after closing down a kitchen for an hour, and you're hungry. Sometimes, you manage to stop at a fast food joint or a coney island (a Michigan-native variety of the 24-hour diner, specializing in chili dogs with onions and mustard, and Chicken Lemon Rice soup.) Sometimes, you grab a pack of snack crackers at a gas station and feed yourself on $3, including a pop or sports drink.

Sometimes, you get home at 1:30 AM and you're just damn hungry. So you pull out a slice of havarti cheese from the fridge, and grab a log of Norcino salami, cured and covered in white mold. You slice yourself a bit, and nibble a corner of cheese, and think to yourself, "I want macaroni and cheese, but I don't have any to microwave and I don't have a box of blue stuff."

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Blue Box Macaroni and Cheese. I grew up very close to my grandmother, and while she didn't produce many culinary delights for me, she did make me Kraft Mac & Cheese, which was bright orange and delicious to my young self. At those times in my life when I've been at my lowest, or most in need of comfort, I've gone and bought boxes of Kraft M&C just so I could remember my Nana, and feel better about my life.

That, however, is somewhat of a diversion from the main focus here—field expedient mac and cheese, which is what happens when a hungry cook gets home from work and wants a dinner.

Mornay sauce is, traditionally, béchamel sauce with Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses added; In this instance, I've produced a slight variation on that, with Havarti, cheddar, and Parmesan, as well as a bit of parsley.

The recipe for this particular dish was entirely written on the fly—that is to say, I had no idea of exact amounts when I started, other than knowing a rough proportion of how much roux to milk I needed to use.

So, I started cooking. I boiled off my macaroni, and began to make my roux, snacking on my salami and drinking a beer all along. I took out a notepad—thinking of you, my faithful readers—and wrote down my recipe so I could share it here, and reproduce it in the future should I desire this cheesy goodness again some time.

Of course, after deciding to do this I discovered that the all-purpose flour in the house had been used up, so I substituted bread flour, knowing that they are roughly equal in thickening power when used as a base for roux (although the bread flour will thicken more, in this small of a quantity that increase in power would be negligible.)

The recipe ended up looking like this:

Macaroni and Cheese for One
2 tsp (10 ml) canola/vegetable oil
2 tsp (10 ml) bread flour
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) milk, skim
1 pinch dried parsley
1 pinch garlic powder
1 pinch white pepper
2 slices deli sliced havarti cheese, about 1 ounce (28 g)
1 inch (2.5 cm) cut off a 4x4x1/2 inch (10x10x1.25 cm) cut of Kerrygold white cheddar
1/4-1/2 c (59-118 ml) of microplaned parmesan cheese, depending on taste
1 cup (237 ml) elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

1. Heat a saucepan over high heat, and then add the oil. When oil is hot, add flour, and cook to a white roux (2-3 minutes, or until the roux starts to foam and bubble, but not color.

2. Add the milk quickly, and whisk well to combine, making sure to crush out any lumps that might form. Bring to a boil gently (making sure to stir to avoid the chance of scorching the sauce) and then reduce to a simmer. Add parsley, garlic powder, and white pepper. Hold at a simmer for 20 minutes or so, to cook out the starchy flavor of the flour.

3. As the 20 minutes (or less if you're impatient and hungry) comes due, add the cheeses, and taste for seasonings. Adjust, adding more pepper, parmesan (for salt) and parsley as you see fit. Place the macaroni in a sauté pan with a bit of water, preparing to reheat it shortly.

4. When the sauce is correct, begin heating the macaroni, mixing with the water to loosen it up and prepare it for the addition of the mornay sauce.

5. Add the mornay, and heat over medium-high heat until bubbling. Be careful not to let the sauce break due to over-heating. When hot all the way through (stir well!) serve the macaroni and cheese, and devour messily heartily with your beer of choice.
It's what's for Dinner.


  1. I do love a good mac and cheese. I'm definitely in the creamy/gooey camp. If you're like me (a bad person) you heat up some sort of cocktail wiener and maybe pan fry a little broccoli with the rooster sauce.

  2. It's not as fast as yours, but this Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese recipe from Cooking Light is amazing:



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