Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Origin of a Craving

Way back in November, I crossed the country to New Jersey to visit my dear friend R and her family - husband, six year old daughter, five year old son K and two terriers.  R is a great hostess and I love visiting her, because I'm immediately welcomed into the family and its just so darn comfortable to be a guest in her home.  R and her family are only temporarily located in New Jersey, having relocated from Dallas for a temporary work assignment.  Therefore, it was a great opportunity for the whole crew to do some touristy things.  One afternoon we ventured out to the Liberty Science Museum and Learning Center, which consisted of four floors of interactive exhibits for the children to explore.  Since we were enjoying the experience over the course of several hours, we inevitably succumbed to hunger pangs and stopped for lunch at the science center's cafe.  As might be expected, the food prices there were astronomical.  I stuck with a relatively reasonably priced kids meal consisting of a grilled cheese sandwich, apple and a juice box. 

R and her husband split a few entree items, including a surprisingly tasty plate of macaroni and cheese.  Likely appalled that I had eaten so little, they were kind enough to offer me a bite and this set off a craving that has stuck with me for over two months now, but I have only just addressed it.

I don't really eat macaroni and cheese much - not since my college days.  That orange-powder-in-the-blue-box abomination from Kraft is gross and the cheese-sauce-in-foil-pouch-over-shells stuff from Velveeta isn't much better.  D dislikes cream-based pasta dishes, so it never occurred to me to exert the effort to make homemade mac-and-cheese.  However, the craving was unstoppable, so I decided that I would whip up a batch even if I had to eat it all myself.  How hard could it be?

I should preface the rest of this post by telling you that I don't cook.  D is a picky discerning food critic and bears most of the cooking load in our home because he's just so darn much better at it, plus he can't offend himself by complaining about the food.  I can, however, assemble.  I do a mean homemade pizza (scratch crust and all).  I've made a few tasty meat pies in my time.  See the pattern?  Assemble and bake.  So I thought I might just be able to pull this off.

Fortunately, I found the Barefoot Contessa's "Grown-up Mac-and-Cheese" recipe (labeled easy) and decided that this might be a sophisticated enough creation to satisfy D's discriminating palate.  It pairs three cheeses, Gruyere, extra sharp Cheddar and Blue, with chewy oven roasted bacon and a basil breadcrumb crust.  I have one thing to say about this recipe - man does it ever use a lot of dishes! Here's the tally:

1 food processor bowl to grate the cheese
1 mini food processor bowl to chop the breadcrumbs and basil
1 cookie sheet to roast the bacon
1 baking rack to roast said bacon upon
1 pasta pot
1 saucepan to warm the milk
1 saucepan to prepare the cheese sauce
1 colander
2 individual baking dishes (I cheated and used one)

Now maybe I'm the only one surprised by this.  My lack of culinary skill leaves me with little frame of reference.  Perhaps loads of dishes is just how it goes; but boy was it ever worth it.  This mac-and-cheese was divine.  There was just enough bite from the sharp cheeses and herbs and texture from the whole wheat pasta and chewy roasted bacon (everything is better with bacon, no?).  Sublime comfort food; it even got the seal of approval from D.  High praise indeed.

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