We live in the largest cultural melting pot of foods the world has even known and as the lines between all the vastly different cooking cultures have really started to blur in recent history our collective American food culture has begun to evolve exponentially. It’s a wonderfully exciting time to be cooking and eating in America, not just because there is access to so many different food cultures, traditions and ingredients but mainly because there are no longer any clear division lines or rules between the different cultural influences among the younger generation of cooks and eaters.
The increasing freedom our generation has to break away from the ghost of “authentic” or “traditional” flavors, ingredients, recipes etc. has really expanding the melting pot mentality of our culinary artist pallet. Flavors and ingredients can be mixed and matched (especially due to wider availability) in some very interesting ways. You can have things like Thai flavors in your southern fried chicken or kimchi on your grilled sausage. There are no borders or limits, the only real requirement seems to be flavor. If it tastes good, who cares where it came from? It’s all American now.
Mac & Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese is one of the ultimate American comfort foods. Instantly inspiring feelings of warmth and nostalgia from childhood with its familiar and reliable smell, taste and texture. The real issue I have always had with mac & cheese is that over the years it has become thought of more and more as a low quality at home fast food. Quick, simplistic and unrefined filler. Something that comes out of a box with either powdered or vacuumed sealed cheese like sauce. The sticker that reads “Made with REAL cheese!” is always dubious at best and its bright orange coloring is horrifying.
True mac & cheese is actually somewhat of an involved, even laborious process to make. No one aspect of its preparation is particularly difficult, but will take you some time and effort to put together. It should be complex in its interplay between creamy, cheesy, firm, soft and crunchy components despite its humble status as simple comfort food.
Nothing compares to a handmade dish of mac & cheese from scratch. I have tried a number of different types of cheese in this and you should also feel free to experiment, but this version is my favorite. Preparing it well for someone is pure affection on a plate.
You will need:
1 LB of elbow macaroni
Unsalted Butter (about half a stick, plus extra for greasing)
1/4th cup of white flour
3 Cups whole milk (cream top is best)
½ LB 5 year extra sharp cheddar, shredded
½ LB Spicy Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded
1 Cup Bread Crumbs from a day old crusty loaf of good French bread
Red Pepper Flakes (optional for more kick)
Salt and Pepper
Start by preheating your oven to 350⁰. Lightly grease a casserole dish/oven proof bowls/ pan with butter.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil, add the macaroni, stir well and boil for 6 min to par-cook. Immediately drain and shock the macaroni with cold water to stop the cooking process, drain again and set aside. In a separate pot bring the milk up to a simmer over medium heat.
Return the large pot to the stovetop on medium heat. Add about 4 tablespoons of butter and once melted whisk in the flour. Reduce to low heat and continue to gently whisk the butter for two min without allowing the flour to brown. Bring the heat back up to medium and slowly whisk in the heated milk, bring it eventually up to a low boil. Remove from heat and stir in both cheeses until combined into a rich, thick and even consistency. Combine the cheese mixture with the drained par-cooked macaroni. Add salt and pepper (optional red pepper flakes) to taste.
In a small pan heat up the remaining butter until melted. Spread and macaroni even into the cooking dish/bowl/pan and top with a generous amount of bread crumbs. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the top of the bread crumbs.
Bake until golden brown, bubbly and the pasta is fully cooked (30-40 min).
Between Now and Then sharpen your blades and chew the fat:
J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician, artist and gallery curator from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He is a resident curator for the art gallery at Bread & Water Theatre, lives in the Park Ave area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.