Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras Mac and Cheese

For the past week, my house has been without an Internet connection. Not as critical these days if your iPhone can check/send emails to loved ones, post status updates to facebook, read daily tweets from Charlie Sheen, and surf the World Wide Web for futile knowledge such as “Is the word doughnut considered a masculine or feminine noun in the French language?”Anyone know? Random foreign language fact: it’s masculine. Unfortunately, however, the lack of an Internet signal at home does create a barrier between me and the ability to update My Eats and Beats. But where there is a will, there is a way. We finally called Comcast!

This weekend was a good mix of rest and entertainment. The gloomy climate, with rain and chilly temperatures, lent itself to 11 hours of sleep on Saturday and Sunday. Amid grey skies, lunch on Sunday was about the only burst of color all weekend: mixed greens with baby carrots, chick peas, plum tomatoes and raspberry vinaigrette. I love meals that are thrown together within minutes, using items that are already in the kitchen. Resources are running scarce, and a trip to the grocery store is certainly in order today. Who wants to bet I walk away with a King Cake in my grocery cart? It’s Mardi Gras!

A few weeks ago we had dinner at my parents, and my mom bought a delectable king cake from Fresh Market. [Insert choir of angels rejoicing at the sight] After dinner my mom, dad, Stewart and I were each served a slice for dessert. Now, tradition states that whoever gets the tiny plastic baby inside the king cake is the king/queen for the day. And that person is then responsible for buying the next king cake. Four large slices, and half a king cake later, there’s no plastic baby in sight. This is just unacceptable. There has to be a baby in there. Five minutes passed, and an entire king cake was devoured by yours truly in search for the missing baby. Guess what? No baby! I felt gypped, and my stomach felt stout. Game over.

I wish I had planned in advance to make my own king cake today. Instead, I’ve posted a recipe for real macaroni and cheese. Kraft macaroni and cheese is a childhood (and adulthood) classic. But if you’re really looking to impress a dinner guest, try this recipe from the Lee Brothers. It’s a staple side dish for any season.  

And the cheese to my macaroni is Louis Armstrong singing "When the Saints Go Marching In". It is quintessential New Orleans/Mardi Gras music. I love the brass band and Louis' voice. A soulful voice to go with this soul food classic.

Macaroni and Cheese from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

serves 12
total time: 1 hour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 pound elbow macaroni

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour3 cups milk

3 bay leaves6 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 pound)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste1 pound Gruyere or Swiss cheese, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Fill a large pasta pot with water. Bring the water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente. Drain and return to the pasta pot.In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir together until smooth. Stir for 3 minutes. Add the milk, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt and stir until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Add half of the cheddar cheese and stir until it is melted. Turn off the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and stir until the sauce is distributed evenly in the pasta. Spread half of the macaroni and cheese in the bottom of a 3-quart casserole dish and flatten into an even layer. Sprinkle half of the remaining cheddar on top, then cover with half of the Gruyere. Add the rest of the pasta, flattening into an even layer, then cover with the remaining cheddar then the remaining Gruyere.

Bake in the middle of the preheated oven until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes. If desired, transfer to the top rack during the last 5 minutes to brown the top.

Serve immediately.

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