Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mystery Mac & Cheese

by Lucy Arlington

How I love the food of the holidays—shortbread and sweets, cranberries and chocolate, delectable hors d’oeuvres, mouthwatering meals, and scrumptious cheese platters. But as much as I relish all these culinary delights, by the time January arrives the indulgences have lost their appeal and I’m ready for some homey comfort food.

One afternoon several years ago, a few days after our New Year’s Eve party, I stood in front of the open door of our refrigerator trying to decide what to make for dinner. The heel of the New Year’s ham needed using up, as well as bits and ends from a variety of cheeses—a sharp aged gouda, a pungent Danish blue, a robust gruyere, and a piquant cheddar. Now I’m not one to be limited by recipes, and often throw in some of this and that, or improvise based on what I have on hand. So I pulled out all the cheeses and the ham, rooted around in the vegetable drawer to find a couple of leeks, grabbed the milk and butter and created the best macaroni and cheese dish we’d ever eaten.

It’s become our standard mac and cheese recipe, except that it’s different every time. A great way to use up cheeses after a party or the end of a ham, it’s dish you wouldn’t even know was made from leftovers.

Oh, and the mystery part in the title? Well, I thought it appropriate since this is on the cozy chicks blog. But more than that, the flavor produced by the varied combination of cheeses will be a mystery until you take your first tantalizing bite.

So be creative. And Happy New Year!

Mystery Macaroni and Cheese
1½ cups elbow macaroni
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
¼ cup chopped onion, or two leeks, sliced thin
2-3 cups grated cheese, of any kind, the more piquant the better
¾ cup ham, chopped into small bits (or six slices bacon, chopped and cooked)
¼ tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne
2-3 handfuls of breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cook macaroni using package directions.
  3. Melt butter and sauté onion (or leeks) a few minutes until softened.
  4. Blend in flour. Add milk and cook and stir until thick.
  5. Add thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, and grated cheese. Stir until cheese melts.
  6. Add ham (or bacon).
  7. Mix sauce with macaroni. Turn into casserole dish. Cover with bread crumbs and dot with butter.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top crust is well browned.
Serves 4 to 6.