Sunday, December 07, 2008

    A New Kind of Comfort Food

    When I lived in New York and was overcome by a particular food craving, I knew exactly how to fill it. Chocolate: Black sesame crusted mochi wrapper filled with hot liquid Callebaut chocolate at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar; Pizza: John's on Bleecker -- no toppings necessary, or the braised lamb and roasted lemon pizza at Waldy's; Skirt Steak: Jane; Indian Street Food: Bread; Comfort Food: Mama's Food Shop.

    These days, I've taken to serving my cravings the old fashioned way (new-fangled, rather, for me): first the grocery, then the kitchen! Yesterday I was in extreme need of comfort food, so I shopped for and made a mac n' cheese recipe I'd recently torn out of a magazine. I used to subscribe to food magazines as a way to learn about food. Now I also subscribe for dinner!

    Mac and Two Cheeses With Caramelized Shallots
    (Click on each photo for a short caption)

    -3 tablespoons butter plus more for baking dish

    -About 6 sliced "cloves" of shallots [Depends on how much crispy sweet tartness you want on top of your casserole; surprisingly, I did indeed have to wear my onion goggles for chopping the shallots!]

    oz small elbow macaroni (2 cups) [I added more than it called for]

    1 1/4 cups half and half [I substituted whole milk; next time I'll do 1/2 whole and 1/2 skim]

    -2 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Cholula) [I love Cholula so I added extra]

    cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces) [My grocery store didn't have low-fat cheese, otherwise I would've substituted it to make this fatty recipe a little less so]

    -1 1/2
    tablespoons all purpose flour

    -2/3 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese [I bought a tube as it was less money than the pre-crumbled, then crumbled it ahead of time into a small bowl]

    Jennifer's Extra Ingredients
    The tomatoes and spinach enrich the recipe a bit
    -1-2 pints cherry tomatoes
    -1-2 cloves garlic (or you could use shallots, or both)
    -A few handfuls of uncooked fresh spinach

    -Preheat oven to 400°F.

    -Recently, to finish a pint of aging cherry tomatoes, I thinly sliced and oven-roasted them with olive oil and garlic, so that they were crispy, tiny, and almost chip-like. To add additional flavor, texture, and lycopene, I decided to do something similar for the mac n' cheese. I cut the tomatoes in half, chopped some garlic and a little bit of shallot, added them to a baking dish with ample olive oil, popped them in the oven, and set the timer for an hour. I didn't cut them as thinly as last time (or maybe these were just plumper tomatoes), so they were still a little juicy when I took them out of the oven, which worked great since they were soon to go back in, mixed with the mac n' cheese. Note: By the time the tomatoes were done baking, everything else was prepped and the kitchen was clean, so it didn't add that much time.

    -Butter 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, covered, until shallots are deep brown, stirring often, about 6 minutes.

    -Meanwhile, cook macaroni in large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally; drain well. Reserve pan. [I transferred the macaroni to a bowl and coated them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and Cholula after they were well drained]

    -Bring half and half [or whatever milk you prefer] and hot sauce to simmer in same saucepan over medium heat. Toss cheddar cheese and flour in medium bowl to coat; add to half and half mixture. Whisk until sauce is smooth and just returns to simmer, about 2 minutes. Mix in pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

    -Spread pasta mixture in prepared dish. [I spread a thin layer of the cheese-covered macaroni, then added a medium-sized layer of spinach. Next I mixed the tomatoes with the rest of the macaroni and added it. I purposefully didn't add the tomatoes into the first layer of macaroni because I knew they'd get stuck to the bottom of the pan]

    -Top with shallots, then goat cheese. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. [I baked for about 25 minutes total to make it crispier -- the extra water from the spinach and tomatoes likely made that necessary]

    This recipe turned out to be tantalizing, heartwarming, and sexy. It exceeded my expectations and helped get me through a crappy day. I can't wait to eat the leftovers (there aren't many) for lunch.


    Liz Tascio said...

    Oh. My. God. I never, ever imagined any mac&cheese recipe could tempt me. They always sound like they'll turn out so blah. But this one? Oh. My. God.

    Jennifer Coleman said...

    4 1/2 days until you get to try it for yourself!

    Liz said...

    Yay!! I can't wait :)

    Anonymous said...

    The inspiration:

    “Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.” Pierre Androuet.

    The challenge:

    GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”


    This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

    A unique and amusing Christmas present for all food lovers