Gourmet Mac & Cheese

mac and cheese

I believe that this recipe originally came from a Gourmet magazine, which I adapted to simplify. It is rich and very delicious.

1 lb tube shaped pasta such as rigatoni or penne rigate (Campanelle is also very nice)
salt
2 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp Dijon mustard (ideally whole grain)
1 lb aged cheddar cheese grated on large holes of a box grater
ground pepper
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs (make by putting stale or fresh bread, crust removed, through a food processor)

1. preheat oven to 400. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 7 minutes — you do not want the pasta to be fully cooked. Drain, then rinse under cold running water in a collander.

2. melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat (I like to use a cast iron pan so I only have one pot to wash). Add onions, garlic, thyme, and rosemary (if used) and cook until onions are soft, 8-10 minutes. If you do not have fresh herbs, use a pinch of dried thyme. Add wine and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove and discard the sprigs of herbs (if you used dried herbs, just leave in the mix). Whisk in flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk then mustard. Reduce heat to keep the sauce at a gentle simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy (about 30 minutes). Remove pan from heat and stir in most of the cheese, leaving about 1/2 to 1 cup of cheese for the top. Stir in the cheese a handful at a time, stirring until completely melted after each addition. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. fold pasta into sauce and stir until well coated. If your pan is not oven-proof, transfer everything to a baking dish. Scatter the remaining cheese on top, then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake until crust is golden, about 25 minutes.

Mac and Cheese
I prefer making this in a wide cast iron frying pan, but it also works with a narrower, deeper pot such as the above.

Mom’s Meatloaf

This is an old family favorite, and I have yet to find a restaurant meatloaf that is better. As usual, I picked up this recipe watching Mom in the kitchen and so amounts are not exact, especially with the seasonings.

2 pounds ground beef
2-3 stalks celery, diced
6-8 white mushrooms, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 egg
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1-2 tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste with a little water added)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
parsley
bacon
breadcrumbs (optional)

» (Optional) Saute the onions until translucent, then add mushrooms, celery and herbs and cook for a few minutes. This step can be skipped if you like your veggies a little crunchier.
» Combine everything in a large mixing bowl except for the bacon. If you first sauted your vegetables, let that cool a bit before putting in the bowl and adding the egg. Mix up the ingredients with your hands until everything is evenly distributed.
» Take out a large baking dish and shape the meatloaf.
» Lay strips of bacon on top of the meatloaf (you can trim extra fat or cut them to the proper length). I typically lay them across the width, and lay the bacon so that each piece is touching the next.
» Preheat oven and cook at 425 degrees (F) for about 10-15 minutes, then turn down to 350 degrees. Test the meatloaf for firmness to see if cooking is finished, but it usually takes about an hour.

My Shepherd’s Pie

This is my version of Shepherd’s Pie, inspired by a recipe in the Dean & Deluca cookbook. I almost always cook this with ground beef, and the amounts below can be totally altered depending on your whim. I prefer to make this in a flat cast-iron skillet with decently-high sides that can be placed directly into the oven, but of course you can create this in non-oven-ready pots and combine everything in a baking dish.

Mashed Potatoes (the top layer)
6 to 8 medium red or gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup milk (or to your desired level of fluffiness)
2 tbsp butter
salt
pepper
parsely, finely chopped (optional)

» Boil potatoes (can cut them into smaller pieces to speed cooking) in salted water in a large pot
» Drain potatoes and mash. Add 2 tbsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper (parsley optional here). Add milk (may need more or less than 1/2 cup depending on amount of potatoes) to the point where potatoes are moist but not yet liquidy.

Base of Shepherd’s Pie
1 pound lean ground beef (or ground lamb
)
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 1/2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp flour
1 medium yellow or white onion, minced
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
1/2 cup beef stock (can be skipped)
3-4 bacon rashers (in U.S., canadian bacon; can use regular bacon too)
salt and pepper
1 tsp tomato paste

» Cook bacon thoroughly in a touch of olive oil in a large cast iron frying pan (or whatever pan you have). Remove from pan and drain most of the bacon grease.
» In same pan, brown the ground beef over moderate heat and season as you cook with 1/2 tsp salt, rosemary, and worcestershire sauce. Once browned, sprinkle with flour, stirring the flour in and let cook for another 4 minutes. Remove meat and drain excess grease from pan.
» Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F)
» Saute onion and carrot in frying pan and cook until onion is translucent. Increase heat slightly and add wine and stock, deglazing bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook for another 5 minutes until liquid is reduced by half. (Optional: add a tsp of tomato paste for a richer flavor)
» While this is cooking, chop up bacon into small bits
» Add meat and bacon back into pan and cook together for a few minutes, until the liquid turns into a nice thick sauce (if it gets very dry, add a little more stock or wine)

Combine and bake:
» If you are using a cast iron pan, your meat and vegetables are already in the pan as the bottom layer. Otherwise, move the mixture to a baking disk. Cover with the mashed potatoes. Smooth the top (easier with a fork, which also lets you make fun patterns) and bake in the oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes until heated thoroughly. I will often turn the heat way up at the very end to brown the top just a bit.