Sunday, July 17, 2016

Recipe: Simple Macaroni and Cheese

Almost exactly one year ago, there was some commotion* in my tiny corner of the Twitterverse about a New York Times recipe from Julia Moskin for macaroni and cheese. There are a zillion mac and cheese recipes, so what caused the commotion? Uncooked macaroni. The recipe calls for uncooked macaroni to be mixed with milk, cheese seasonings, and blended cottage cheese, and then the whole thing baked for 60 minutes. Several in the Twitter commotion were highly skeptical, including me. But we were foolish to doubt the New York Times cooking team: the recipe was a success and has become a 'go to' recipe for me.  And also is a lot easier to make than my previous favorite macaroni and cheese (from the now-gone Paper Palate blog).

The recipe wasn't quite right for me as originally written, so I have been making changes:  four about ingredients, two about methods.

  1. Cut it down: The first modification happened before I even made the first batch: I thought that 1 pound of cheddar cheese was too much, so I cut it in half. 
  2. Frozen: Next, I tried freezing the cottage cheese. The recipe calls for 8 ounces of cottage cheese and I buy it in 16 ounce containers, so I froze the extra 8 ounces and used it in a batch a few weeks later (after defrosting). It was fine — the freeze / thaw cycle didn't have any negative effects on the dish.
  3. The whole story: Hearing so much about whole grains, it was worth trying a whole wheat pasta. The pasta cooked properly and made the flavors a bit more robust.
  4. Choppin' lots of broccoli: The final ingredient tweak has been to add some chopped broccoli halfway through the baking time (when the mixture is gently stirred). The broccoli cooks nicely and adds nutrients and flavors.
  5. Simpler combine: The original recipe calls for the milk, seasonings, and cottage cheese to be blended together, and then the mixture combined with the pasta and grated cheese in a large bowl. Instead of mixing everything in a bowl, why not pour the pasta and grated cheese into the blender jar and then mix it by hand? It's slightly challenging to get a uniform mix in the blender jar, but that can be corrected in the baking dish. (Of course, an immersion blender could also be used in a mixing bowl to blend the cottage cheese, milk and seasonings, and then the pasta added to that bowl.)
  6. One tool, two jobs: A few weeks ago, I had a question while I was washing dishes after making the recipe: Could I use a food processor to grate the cheese and blend the ingredients, thereby cutting the 'wash list' by one?  The answer is yes. Step 1: use the food processor's grater disk to grate the cheese. Remove the cheese and put it on the plate you are going to use for dining to save a dish. Step 2: switch to the blade and process the cottage cheese, milk, and seasonings. Step 3: add the dry pasta and grated cheese to the bowl and mix everything together by hand. Step 4: pour into the prepared pan. 

Recipe: Simple Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from a New York Times recipe by Julia Moskin

This recipe is designed for use with a food processor that has a grating tool.  If you don't have that or don't want to use it, grate the cheese with another tool and use a blender to mix the milk, seasonings, and cottage cheese.

8" x 8" (20 cm x 20 cm) baking dish 
Food processor with grater attachment (or blender and grater)
Aluminum foil

Butter for baking dish
1 cup (225 g) cottage cheese (not low fat)
2 cups (490 g) whole milk
1 t  (5 mL) mustard powder
1/2 t (2.5 mL) salt
1/4 t (1.25 mL) freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces (225 g) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces (225 g) elbow pasta, uncooked
Optional: 1/2 c. (120 mL) chopped broccoli

  1. Butter the baking dish
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C)
  3. Use the grater attachment on the food processor (or another grater) to grate the cheddar cheese.  Move to another container while you work with the wet ingredients.
  4. Add the cottage cheese, milk, mustard, salt and pepper to the bowl of the food processor.  Process until smooth.  (or use a blender)
  5. Add the uncooked pasta and all but about 1/4 c. (~60 mL) of the cheese to the food processor bowl.  (or add them to the blender jar)
  6. Mix by hand until all of the pasta is coated.
  7. Pour into prepared pan. Cover with foil.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes
  9. Stir, add chopped broccoli if using, top with reserved cheese.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes, uncovered.
  11. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

* Watch Stefan (as Big Eddie) get riled up about commotion at 0:26 in this clip from "Flight of the Conchords"

Image Credits
Macaroni label, Camilla Brand, Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Co. from California Historical Society's Flickr collection, no known copyright restrictions;  "These Reports.." image from page 470 of "American cookery" (1914) from Internet Book Archive's Flickr collection, no known copyright restrictions.

Random link from the archive: Boat Chaat

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