Luxury mac ‘n’ cheese pots

by Jeanne on September 10, 2008

in Pasta & rice, Presto Pasta Nights

IMG_4103 - titleYou know how sometimes everybody likes something… except you?

I remember that at school everyone like liquorice… except me.  How I wished I could also buy those long black ropes of liquorice at the corner cafe and chew contentedly all afternoon… but sadly it was not to be.  Satan’s own shoelaces, if you ask me.

Or, more recently, how everybody loved Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  Me?  I thought it was a fun plot (done before and better in The Name of the Rose, though) peopled by the most ridiculously two-dimensional characters, and a thoroughly annoying, breathless and italics-laden writing style

Mac ‘n’ cheese is another example – most people get a wistful look in their eyes at the mere mention of the dish, thinking back fondly to a warm, comforting nursery dish.  It’s good, honest food, right?  Noodles, cheese sauce, maybe the odd tomato slice on top for colour – can’t really go wrong, can you?

Well, sadly, that’s not the case.  You see, the problem with this sort of deceptively simple food is that people start to equate simple cooking with sloppy or lazy cooking, and I seem to have encountered my fair share of this over the years.  Mention mac ‘n’ cheese to me and I think of claggy, overcooked noodles gummed together like superglue; of cheese sauce that had never been near a piece of cheese; of dishes left in the oven until the cooked pasta had re-hardened to its uncooked consistency; or flavourless white-on-white gum that’s been microwaved to death.  I could carry on, but I don’t want to offend sensitive readers.

So suffice to say that when the BBC Olive Magazine asked me earlier this year to test a recipe for them, my heart sank when I heard the recipe was to be mac ‘n’ cheese.  But looking at the ingredient list, I felt the first vague stirrings of hope.  Three kinds of cheese, including Gruyere?  You mean like a cheese fondue?  Things were looking up.

Mac ‘n’ cheese (or macaroni cheese as I grew up calling it) is very popular in the USA, with some even claiming that founding father Thomas Jefferson invented it.  Although this is unlikely, he did serve it at a White House dinner in 1802.  A large part of the dish’s popularity is ascribed to Kraft’s introduction of its Kraft Dinner ready-to-prepare mac ‘n’ cheese in 1937.  The Kraft version received a huge boost during and after World War II when food was rationed and the Kraft version was seen as an affordable substitute for meat dinners.  In fact, the taste of this particular Kraft dish has become so ingrained in American tastebuds that people have been known to choose the Kraft version over a made-from-scratch mac ‘n’ cheese!

I’m afraid I’ve never had Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese so I can’t comment on the taste… but I can tell you about the mac ‘n’ cheese I made.  These little pots were a total breeze to make, and I love the idea of individual ramekins rather than a big dish.  They would be adorable to serve at a dinner party, and it’s dead easy to double the recipe and freeze a few ramekins for another time. The taste was the real surprise for me – it was like having a cheese fondue that a few noodles had strayed into – perfectly heavenly!  The combination of full-flavoured cheeses and wholegrain mustard means that nobody can describe these as being lacking in flavour, and there is enough cheesy sauce that they aren’t remotely dry.

In a nutshell, it’s nursery food, dressed in a new outfit and all grown up.  And if it can convert me, it will absolutely delight all the rest of you who are already mac ‘n’ cheese fans :)

LUXURY INDIVIDUAL MAC ‘N’ CHEESE POTS (serves 4)

Ingredients:

30 g butterMacNCheese2
30g plain flour
850ml milk
1 clove garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
200g mature Cheddar
100g Gruyere
50g Parmesan or Grana Padano
250g macaroni

Method:

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour.  Keep cooking and stirring for about 3 minutes, then gradually whisk in the milk to make a smooth sauce.  Add the garlic, simmer for 4 minutes , then remove the garlic. Add the mustard, cheddar Gruyere, half the Parmesan and stir until melted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C.  Boil the macaroni until just al dente. then rinse under cold water and drain well. Mix with the sauce and divide between 4 small ovenproof dishes.  Scatter over the remaining Grana Padano, then bake for about 15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

I’m submitting this recipe to Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast as my very first entry into her weekly Presto Pasta Nights event – do be sure to check out the round-up on Friday!

Other bloggers loving mac ‘n’ cheese include:

Paulchen’s Foodblog who made my recipe!

Alanna at A Veggie Venture made butternut mac ‘n’ cheese

Anne of Anne’s Food made classic mac ‘n cheese

Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen made low-carb mac ‘n’ cheese

June at Thyme for Food made mac ‘n’ cheese with ham

Christina at Thorngrove Table made fourteenth century mac ‘n’ cheese

Bellini Valli at More than Burnt Toast made grown-up mac ‘n’ cheese

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Bellini Valli September 11, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Yes great minds do think alike Jeanne:D..we even both have Gruyere:D

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Diane September 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Hi Jeanne–
Sounds scrumptious! I’ve had Kraft mac-n-cheese and it’s nothing to write home about–I guess it all depends on what you grew up on. I grew up on “real” macaroni cheese, so packaged products just don’t cut it in my humble opinion. Btw…I think that Ikea’s macaroni cheese is pretty darn good, as crazy as that may seem!
Diane

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Antonia September 11, 2008 at 3:42 pm

I love macaroni cheese but agree it has to be done properly. Mustard is key, in my book. I love the idea of serving them in ramekins too – they’d make great dinner party starters like you suggest.

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Pim September 11, 2008 at 4:14 pm

I’m with you on not always liking something everyone else likes. That book The Alchemist for example–horrendously predictable and brimming with the worst cliches that are only vaguely philosophical.
I’ll eat this mac and cheese though.

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ELRA September 11, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Absolutely luxe Mac “N” Cheese!
Never made Mac “N” Cheese before since it doesn’t really sound too appetizing to me! But I must say that after looking at the ingredients, especially with Dijon mustard, I couldn’t reject your luxe mac n cheese!

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Anthony Silverbrow September 11, 2008 at 4:31 pm

I love it in ways I can’t even begin to mention. The ultimate indulgence being mac n cheese and chips – sick I know but oh so good.
I’ve still never made it, but you’ve inspired me, I gonna do it – at some point.
Cheers for pointing out the date mistake on my Slow Food piece, duly amended!

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courtney September 11, 2008 at 6:13 pm

I love the concept of pots for portion control. I love to drizzle some black truffle oil on top.

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Darius T. Williams September 11, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Let me just tell you – I’m a macaroni & cheese aficionado…and you did a great job here! Mac and cheese is a southern staple and a regular in my diet!
-DTW
http://www.everydaycookin.blogspot.com

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Peter September 11, 2008 at 6:59 pm

Always have, always will luv Mac n’ Cheese. I would like to sample each the dishes being made today!

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_ts of [eatingclub] vancouver September 11, 2008 at 7:37 pm

I love this line:
“I could carry on, but I don’t want to offend sensitive readers.” ;)

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Nilmandra September 11, 2008 at 9:47 pm

I’ve just moved to Vancouver and was commenting to someone at the supermarket (at an aisle with Kraft’s Mac and cheese) that I’ve never had Mac and cheese before. I got to try this recipe!

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Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) September 11, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Mac and cheese is so rich that a small portion would be perfect. I love the idea of making these in ramekins. Oh, and Kraft macaroni and cheese? It’s definitely not the taste that we love from childhood — I think it’s the bright orange color!

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neil September 11, 2008 at 11:58 pm

My daughter was having a fling…with instant mac ‘n’ cheese. This father intervened and broke up the relationship with a properly made one. A girls gotta have standards!

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Susan from Food Blogga September 12, 2008 at 1:33 am

I’m so relieved to hear I’m not the only one who isn’t in love with mac ‘n cheese. Especially in the States, it’s practically sacrilege to say you don’t love mac ‘n cheese. Your luxury version, however, could make me a convert. :)

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ExAfrica September 12, 2008 at 2:19 am

OK – I do admit that since we moved to America the child has developed sort of a thing for Mac -n- Cheese. Quite a big thing, in fact – it must be something in the water! But I gave in to the instant stuff! (Organic, mind, but not the same as home made). And at restaurants here – they only serve Kraft – so she has unfortunately experienced that, much to her delight! I will make this over the weekend – I need to turn the child around before it’s too late!

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nina September 12, 2008 at 4:36 am

I love Mac-n-cheese, but have never made the normal stick-to-your-palate kind. I think I am pretty good, but sadly hubby still prefers his mom’s, and trust me I think you have described her version in the first half of your post…..sad isn’t is!!! I love the edition of Gruyere and mustard.Will try soon and let you know if I could convert Hubby!

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grace September 12, 2008 at 8:15 am

let me assure you–you’re not missing out by not having tried kraft mac & cheese. ick. meanwhile, how cool that you got to test a recipe for olive, and how fortunate that it turned out to be so awesome! :)

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Stephanie September 12, 2008 at 11:18 am

Oooh…I’m definitely in the pro-cheesey pasta camp. And yeah, you can do some amazing things with it. We often do what we call ‘cheese drawer pasta’, grating up all our odds and ends and boiling up remainders of pasta. Good stuff, though never replicate-able.
And have you ever used cheese tortellini with your fondue? Heavenly.

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Jan September 12, 2008 at 11:55 am

I’m liking the dijon mustard you’ve added and I love mac n cheese!
This is reminding me I haven’t made it for a while. Yours looks extra yummy! Fantastic photos as always.

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Ruth September 12, 2008 at 12:35 pm

So glad you finally decided to share a pasta dish with Presto Pasta Nights. And I do hope you plan on sending more our way.
Mac ‘n cheese is one of those dishes that when made well…and your’s sounds awesome…it’s the most comforting meal in the world. On the other hand…there’s nothing less appealing than hard as a rock, or thick as wallpaper paste version.

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Deeba September 12, 2008 at 1:21 pm

*SWOON* it looks SO DELICIOUS. It’s what goes in that matters & the hand that stirs…LOL. Yes, I think it’s just right for grown-ups & the small ramekins seem perfect. I’m with you on the Da Vinci Code; could never figure out what the hoo-haa was all about. Also am very much with Pim on The Alchemist…
This Mac ‘n’ Cheese is now a different story altogether…rewritten yummily!

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Angela September 12, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Mmmm… this does look good, Jeanne. And I’m glad that you’ve been converted over to the macaroni cheese camp! Try adding some garlic-infused breadcrumbs to the top for some amazing crunch, or–my favourite–some broccoli seared in garlic oil. Hmm, I sound a bit garlic-obsessed, don’t I? Both are divine, though!

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jude September 15, 2008 at 1:48 am

I totally agree with simple comfort foods being synonymous with sloppiness. Gotta treat any type of food with respect no matter how humble it is, right?

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Anne September 15, 2008 at 7:46 am

Oh, this looks so yummy! I’m a big mac & cheese fan.. although I have to admit I’m probably a bit addicted to the kraft version. I know it’s bad, I know… :)

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Astrid October 7, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Yuuuuummmmmmy! I made mac’n’cheese for the first time with your ecipe and we loved it. It was very very yummy! Thanks for sharing Jeanne!!

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