Monday, September 21, 2009

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Today is a day for comfort food. I'm tired and cranky and it's raining. I finally hauled out my copy of "How to Cook Everything" and so it begins.

In retrospect, I think the next time I make this one, I will not use skim milk as I usually do for most recipes needing milk. My sauce never really thickened to the point that I suspect it was supposed to, even after I hastily added extra cheddar cheese and flour. I was also a little heavy-handed on the bread crumb topping even though the recipe said I could add more than 1/2 cup. Altogether, the end product is somewhat dry and crumbly, compared to how I've had variations of it before. It's still edible though it will require some extra sauce to fix the problem. Bah.

I think I need to get a kitchen scale soon. This cookbook likes to measure things like dry pasta in weight. I measure everything in cups or spoons. I also use the liquid measuring cups for dry ingredients even though I know I'm supposed to use the slidey tower thing for dry stuff. I had to ask some friends how to convert from weight to cups, and in the end, I threw in the whole box of whole wheat macaroni. That sounds familiar.

This recipe also generates one heck of a lot of dishes! That doesn't even count the two pots and the grater that I had to wash before I could use them. 3 pots, 1 grater, 1 bowl, 1 colander, measuring spoons, measuring cup, 3 demitasse cups....geez! It's going to be a long night at the sink.

A word of advice: 2 1/2 cups of milk don't really fit into a 2 cup measuring cup, even with that extra section above the 2 cup line. Trust me. You'll still be pouring ever so carefully when you'll suddenly notice the milk streaming out the spout onto the counter. Then, after you stem the flow and wipe the floor in addition to the counter, you'll get the bright idea of transferring the milk to one of those large glasses in the cupboard. Bad idea. It's actually smaller than the 2 cup measuring cup. Then, after you wipe up even more spilled milk and contemplate crying about it, you'll momentarily berate yourself for not using the 4 cup measuring cup in the first place, instead of thinking you'd save it for the cheese.

Cooks beware! If, like me, you really haven't cooked with flour much before (cake mixes out of a box don't count, fyi), prepare to be shocked when you start adding the milk in teeny batches to your cooked flour/butter goo. The milk will hit the pan, start sizzling, and immediately turn everything into gross lumps of yuck, at which point you'll feel like crying (again) because you'll be sure you've just wrecked the recipe. Just keep stirring, just keep stirring, just keep stirring! If you've obeyed the cookbook and only added about 1/4 cup of milk, if you stir long enough with your wisk, it will smooth out, shortly after which your panic will start to subside. They tell you to add the milk in small batches for a reason, and take it from the Queen of "Look, I don't need instructions!", you should follow the recipe this time.

Like I said previously, I added extra cheese and flour to my non-thickening sauce, pretty much to no avail. Stupid fat-free dairy products. Hrmph. I also added a couple of pinches of dry mustard, just so that I could feel virtuous about being able to randomly add those "pinches" and "dashes" of ingredients that so many people do without thinking. I don't really know if it added any flavour to the recipe, but that's not the point, is it? I did get a little annoyed with myself when I put the mustard in its new home above the stove, only to stare blankly at a large package of dry mustard I'd bought some time previously and forgotten all about. I need to stop feeling creative in the spice section of the grocery store.

Speaking of feeling creative, if looks could maim, my iPod surely would have shriveled under the glare it got from me when it took some creative liberties with the "shuffle" setting and started playing "Same Mistake" by James Blunt. Haha, very funny. Just because I'm making macaroni again, I am NOT making the same Sponge Bob macaroni mistake. I lunged at it later when it started playing a song whose lyrics entail "I need a miracle, I need a miracle". Honestly! Am I that bad in the kitchen that even my iPod is trying to communicate it to me?

Postscript: Next time, I will try my cousin Deanna's suggestion of using undiluted skim evaporated milk for the dairy. I will probably also use regular macaroni instead of whole wheat as they behave differently enough to want to try the other.
I ended up making a second batch of sauce last night, and after unrooting the original version from the glass baking dish and unceremoniously dumping it in a bowl, I mixed in the new sauce and shoved the whole mess in the oven for about 5 minutes. I just tried it for lunch today (with ketchup) and it's edible but not as smooth as I would have liked. I also managed to grate my knuckle while struggling with the second batch of cheese sauce. Not impressed.

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