I should have called this "Comfort Food Week" because that's all that's been cooking in this house this week. Meatloaf, mac and cheese and banana bread have all been on the list. I blame it on the weather. It's been cold and rainy here all week.
Today's take on comfort food is classic mac and cheese. There's nothing more rib sticking or comforting than a huge bowl of this stuff. I paired this with a salad of mesclun, apples, radishes (from our winter CSA) with fresh Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
This dish is a good moment to remind everyone that often buying local or regional is always about heading to a local farm or shop (although I recommend you do!). Shopping for local products often doesn't have to stray far from your normal grocery store. I used Cabot cheeses (from VT) and milk from The Organic Cow (which comes from New England cows), both are easily found throughout New England grocery stores. I try to buy my supermarket staples with a focus on region. Most of my dairy products are Cabot (cheese, butter, sour cream); my milk is organic and from New England companies; my flour is King Arthur varieties from Vermont; and I search out other various local companies to buy from just at my local grocery store. If you're lucky enough to have a Whole Foods Market nearby, they often carry local products, artisans and produce from your area.
I love finding local stuff at the supermarket because it's a really great first step for people interested in starting to buy more locally. It's not out of your routine, you just have to do a little research. However, I'm still a fan of frequenting smaller local shops and farms because you're helping your community double. You're getting a local product and supporting a local business. It's a happy medium to find. I know people are busy and often don't have time to hit a bunch of local farms or butchers or shops to get everything they need. However, just knowing what's local or regional at the local supermarket is a great first step towards changing your eating and buying habits to be more local. Now to the food...
Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Source: Cooks Illustrated
Serves: 6-8 or 12 as a side
Bread Crumb Topping
6 slices white sandwich bread (I used fresh baguette), torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces
Pasta and Cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups milk (I used 2%, it works perfect)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups, I prefer Cabot cheeses)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1 teaspoon table salt
For the bread crumbs:
Pulse bread and butter in food processor until large crumbs form.
For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler (I only did to 450 degrees). Bring water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in a colander.
In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, bringing mixture to a full boil to thicken. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and stir to coat and cook for several minutes until mixture is fully heated and steaming.
Transfer mixture to a broiler-safe 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown about 3-5 minutes. Rotate pan, if necessary, to get even browning. Cool for 5 minutes and serve.