Monday, May 15, 2017

Better Than Mac And Cheese

Remember eating mac and cheese growing up? I've had my share of it. We had plenty of it early in our marriage, too. Just open the box, take out the envelope of powdered cheese product, boil the noodles, add butter and milk, and dinner was finished. Sometimes we added water, because we couldn't afford the milk and butter. Sometimes we didn't add anything at all. 
It would have been cheaper to make my own noodles, but I didn't know how at the time. Remember that I am a homemade noodle snob. It comes into play here, and it's kind of funny. The pasta Gods have knocked me off of my high horse. That story comes later...

First, let me tell you about this fabulous bechamel-turned-cheese sauce with add-ins that blend together into a perfectly cheesy, subtly truffle-y, salted with ham-y, and savory mushroom-y mac and cheese. 

I threw my flour and eggs into my mixer and attached the dough hook. I use a paper towel when I crack eggs eggs for a couple of reasons. One, before they are cracked, it keeps my eggs from rolling off of the counter and onto the floor. Yes, it's happened. Secondly, after they're cracked it's the perfect place to put the shells for easy clean-up.  Remember, I keep used eggshells. I also crack my eggs into a prep bowl before I add them to anything. 

I let my mixer go while I prepped the sauce. If you don't have a dough hook, knead, knead, knead. Add enough flour to make a beautiful dough that's soft, not sticky. Set it aside, cover it and let it rest. Otherwise, just let the mixer do it's job for a while.

While the dough is kneading, place butter and flour into a saucier. It needs to be large enough to hold all of the sauce when it's finished. I know that roux is traditionally made by melting the butter first, and you can do that. I have had my stove for thirty years and know it's personality, so I take liberties. I set my burner on super-low. I'm going to cook it slowly, browning the roux to give it a nutty flavor. This takes time. 

While the roux is cooking, check the pasta dough. Perfect. I used a super-fine flour, because I wanted silky elbows that would fill with this luscious sauce. After a couple of quick minutes of hand-kneading, cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside to rest.

Prep the add-in's. Take a quick peek at the roux to make sure the heat isn't so high that it will burn. Mine isn't even simmering. It's barely cooking and browning. Adjust the heat if you need to. It shouldn't be doing much at this point. 

I cut about two inches off of my block of cheddar. I weighed it at 6 oz.. The gruyere had a sliver missing. I weighed what I had at 5 oz.. Everything is turning out perfect!

Grate them together. I know that it's easier to buy pre-grated cheese, but when you grate your own, it's so much better. I believe that the closer you can get to the original ingredient, the better the flavor. Pre-grated cheese has so much surface area exposed that the flavor suffers. 

The fresher the better. I have oregano growing. It's a perennial that grows stronger every year. Seriously, I have so much of it that I have to pick it to feed the girls. What a great problem to have! Oh how I wish the rest of my garden looked like this! For now, it's a lone island of oregano amongst a sea of seedlings.

Chop the oregano, grate the nutmeg, and gather it together with cayenne pepper in a bowl. Set it aside. 

Slice and cube ham. I'm using leftover Easter ham. We are tired of ham sandwiches! Since I'm using the end that's not sliced, I made sure to cut any hidden fat, skin, or gristle off first. Give the roux a quick stir.

Slice mushrooms and dice onion. 

In a frying pan, add butter to saute onions and mushrooms. I like my mushrooms with a little brown crust to them, so I add a pinch of salt to help brown them. I use a medium-hot to hot burner so that I'm sure to get a good fond on the bottom to deglaze.

When the onions are translucent and the mushroom golden, deglaze that pan. Pour the wine (into the pan) while scraping the fond off of the bottom. Get all of the little bits loose.

Add ham to the pan to warm and sear. Take the pan off of the heat and stir in the pièce de résistance. Ever so subtle, a touch of truffle butter. I am talking about 1/4 t.. The flavor of truffle can be overdone. It can ruin a perfect dish. All this needs is enough to make the one who is partaking wonder about the indefinable and subtle flavor that the brain can't quite grasp. This was a gift from my niece, Audree. She has good taste! I wish I could share it with her. Set pan aside.

Check the roux. Does it smell deliciously nutty? Is it a golden shade of brown, with an ever-so-slightly rusty color? Good. It's time to use.

Turn up the heat to medium/medium hot. Continuously stir while adding milk. As it thickens, turn the heat back down to low. Cook a few minutes more. 

Add herbs and spices. Remove from heat. 

Stir in cheeses. It may look thick and a little lumpy. This is ok. We're going to thin it a little later.

This is a measured 1/4 t. truffle salt. It was a gift from Ashley at Craving4More. I am constantly amazed and so thankful for the gifts I receive! I added it to the cheese sauce.

Stir in cream to thin the sauce a little. 

Combine the mushroom mixture with the cream sauce. Set it aside.

Remember that gorgeous pasta dough that's waiting to become elbow mac? Now is the time to use it. This ball has a few dry spots because I rolled it around in the flour bits. No worries. It will work right back in, after I knead it a few times.

All I have to do at this point is press it through my pasta extruder and make elbows. Easy peasy. I love this extruder. It has six different dies. I can cut my pasta to any length I want. It's comparably affordable.

Can you see the wire here? It's supposed to stretch taut from end to end. It's what does the actual cutting. This wire is broken. I'm not complaining here. I have used the heck out of both my mixer and pasta makers. This is the first time my wire needs replaced. The only thing is that I've got a gorgeous cheese sauce looking for mac.

I'm kind of disappointed because my sauce is really, really good, and I wanted it to top some awesome homemade mac. A quick call to Kevin, and he picks up a box of elbow noodles on his way home from work. Funny, right? The pasta Gods have humbled me. I cooked the whole box for 7 minutes at a full boil. Al dente. Drain, and combine noodles and sauce. Place it in a baking dish (I made [2] 8x8 dishes and a ramekin for a friend). 

I found a little bit of Toasted Almond Gremolata in the refrigerator that I used on one pan, and topped the others with french bread crumbs. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until it's bubbly and the crumbs have browned.

You'll notice I don't have pictures past my sauce. It was dark by the time Kevin got home and brought noodles. I couldn't take pictures until the next day. Kevin ate one whole pan by himself. It was my 'picture' pan. It's that good. The next day, I took a picture of his lunch bowl (the titled pic) and the ramekin that went to a friend. It works. A friend told me that a good sauce can make cheap pasta taste good. It really was good. I've learned my lesson about being a homemade noodle snob. Of course, I will still continue to make my own noodles when I get my press fixed. Until then, I can make other dishes. Ha!

  • * The roux
  • 5 T butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • *The cheese sauce
  • 1 t grated nutmeg
  • 2 T fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1/8 t (a pinch) cayenne pepper
  • 5 oz Gruyere cheese
  • 6 oz cheddar, I used Dubliner
  • 2 C milk
  • 1/4 t salt; truffle salt is the bomb here!
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 C cream
  • * The add-in's
  • 1 T butter
  • 10 button mushrooms, sliced (about 2 C)
  • 1/4 of an onion, about a cup; I used a red onion because I had it, but a sweet yellow onion would make it even better
  • 1 - 1 1/2 C sliced and diced ham; for those who don't eat pork, chicken would be delicious, too.
  • 1/2 mini bottle white wine, approximately 1/2 - 3/4 C; OR chicken broth
  • 1/4 t truffle butter


  1. You are truly fabulous. FABULOUS.
    Now I know I need an extruder. It's a must.
    And, I too have very fond memories of Kraft Mac & Cheese.'s just all that's going to cut it - even with just water. Happy kiddo memories.

    1. Thank you Ashley. We've come a long way from the box, haven't we?