Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homemade Mac and Chérieezy (Yes, I'm lame.)

FACT: You will NEVER find day-glow orange, boxed macaroni and cheese in my house. NEVER.

I went on a quest to find Denver's finest mac and cheese. Steuben's, Sputnik, Jonesy's Eat Bar... let's just say I've had my fare share of the creamy side dish. Here's my version of the perfect mac and cheese. Feel free to experiment with different cheeses to suit your taste. For a smaller portion, simply cut the recipe in half.

My local grocery store (King Soopers) has a specialty cheese counter, complete with a cheese expert. I call her the "Cheese Lady" (I'm sure there's a fancy name for someone who specializes in cheese, I just don't have the time or the care to look that up.) My highest recommendation: BE NICE TO THE CHEESE LADY! (and the meat guy, and the produce guy, and the baker...) She lets me sample different cheeses, makes me special orders and gives me awesome suggestions based on the fact that I'm nice to her. Heck, she even lets me know right before she marks down certain cheeses so I can get them at discounted prices.

Mac & Chérieezy
1 lb. cavatappi or elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
.35 lb. Cave Aged Gruyere, grated
.70 lb. Jarlsberg Swiss Cheese, grated
.25 lb. Cantalette Cheese, grated
.25 lb. English Cheddar, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 dash (or pinch) ground nutmeg
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Oil (vegetable or canola)

The cheese measurements don't have to be exact, just in the ball park.

Top Left: Cave Aged Gruyere, Jarlsberg Swiss / Bottom Left: Cantalette, English Cheddar

1. Drizzle oil into a pot of boiling water. Add generous pinch of salt to the boiling water. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it.

3. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.

4. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, nutmeg, salt (to taste) and pepper (to taste). Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

5. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.

6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Crab Legs

FACT: I don't own a large pot with a steaming basket.

I've taken my large pot, filled it with approximately 2 inches of water, then placed an oven-safe glass bowl on top of the water. Make sure the water isn't near the top of the bowl because you want to steam the crab, not boil the crab. Nothing ruins your taste for crab like breaking open a leg and having scalding water drain out. Here's my MacGyver creation of a large steam pot:

While you're waiting for the water to boil, place the crab legs (I used snow crab legs) onto a plate and season them generously. My crab legs come wrapped in butcher paper, so I arrange the crab legs on the paper and sprinkle them with Old Bay seasoning. 

Once the water starts boiling, turn the flame down to simmer, put the seasoned crab into the bowl and cover the pot. Cook for approximately 15 minutes.

Use tongs to pull out the steamed crab and enjoy. Some people dunk their crab into melted butter. That's not how we roll.

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

1 (5 ounce) container of Treasure Cave Crumbled Blue Cheese (or your favorite blue cheese)
1/2 c. milk (use buttermilk for a richer flavor)
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1 t. red wine vinegar
1/4 t. sugar
1/4 t. garlic powder
1-2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper (to taste)

Personally, I throw all of the ingredients into my food processor with the blade attachment and let the machine do the work. I don't like huge chunks of blue cheese in my dressing, so preparing it in the food processor makes it creamy, with a ranch-like consistency. If you'd like a thicker dressing, add less milk. If you'd like a thinner dressing, add more milk.

If you don't have a food processor (sad face) simply put the blue cheese and milk into a bowl. Mash the mixture with a fork so the cheese resembles a curd-like consistency. Then stir in the remaining ingredients.