Using a recipe to make good ol’ Mac and Cheese from grand kitchen pooh-bah Grant Achatz feels vaguely ludricous, like asking Arizona Muse how to grow sassy eyebrows, or asking the sun what yellow feels like.
Does Grant even acknowledge Mac and Cheese? Hasn’t he evolved to a station in which he requires food in powder or foam form to recognize it’s reason for existence? Isn’t he too busy sketching pictures of Roasted Maitake Mushrooms with Chestnuts, Roasted Vegetables and Autumnal Aromas or freeze-drying Pineapple Chips and Cherries for his Powdered Ham and Clove dish to consume, much less prepare, a lowly meal consisting of carbs and dairy products that haven’t been shot out of cannon or chanted over by a wizard in a green teepee?
Thankfully, no. And I decided to give his refreshingly simple recipe for Mac and Cheese a whirl. One of the marvelous side effects of eating basic food made with a great chef’s recipe is the manner in which the dish is reinvigorated; the flavors sing, in their most elemental, yet elevated form.
The macaroni, in Grant Achatz’s hands, becomes the all-American carb and dairy fest it always is, underpinned with assertive waves of BBQ (it tasted like a smoke-bomb, in a good way, probably due to the paprika and cayenne sauteed at the same time as the onions and infused into the roux), grilled cheese (the topping of simply grated cheese, cooked until crisp) and … bacon (chopped and fried); in other words, he unlocked the key to the holy Trinity of classic edible American childhood, and I served it for dinner.
In addition to my usual carb splurge, I wanted to get a handle on the growing pile of pumpkins and squash in my kitchen. I got a bumper crop of sweet pumpkins and squash from Cascade Farm this week, and I celebrated with a batch of Molten Chocolate Pumpkin Mini Cakes and a Slightly Squashed Squash Souffle. No matter how gently I fold my egg whites into my soufflé, it never holds the super high rise I want it too, probably because I cram too much cheese into it. But it certainly tastes good on a chilly Sunday morning.
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Grant Achatz’s Mac and Cheese
Makes 8 servings
I made a few tweaks to the master’s recipe
- 2 TBSP butter
- 8 slices bacon, diced into ½-inch or so pieces
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 TBSP (yes!) Paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper (even for heat-fearing wussies)
- ½ TBSP old bay
- ¼ cup flour
- 6 cups whole milk
- Salt, and lots of it
- 4-5 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 lb favorite mac and cheese pasta (I love Cavatappi shapes)
- Vegetable oil spray
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a casserole dish with vegetable oil spray.
- Melt butter over medium heat, careful not to burn. Add diced bacon and cook until golden brown. Make sure it’s all cooked through, otherwise you’ll get flabby mouthfuls of undercooked flesh in your final dish, so not yummy.
- Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate.
- Add onion, bay leaves, paprika, cayenne, old bay and salt to the buttery bacon fat and fry over medium heat until softened, a few minutes. Sprinkle flour over the top, stir and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
- Whisk in the milk slowly in and cook over medium high until bubbling furiously, reduce to simmer and cook until thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves.
- Meanwhile, boil water for your pasta and cook for about six-seven minutes. (Almost cooked, but not quite). Drain and set aside.
- Add three cups of the cheddar to the milk sauce and stir in, reserving one-two cups. Toss in the cooked bacon bits.
- Add the drained macaroni with the sauce. Ladle carefully into the casserole dish, top with reserved cheddar, cook uncovered for about 20 minutes until bubbling and golden, serve while hot.
Optional garnish: Parmesan tuiles. (Grate 1 TBSP of Parmesan for each tuile. Place in small piles on silpat and cook in 350 oven until melted and golden, about 7 minutes). When cooked, just stick them in the Mac and Cheese for an extra dose of cheese.
Nutritional Breakdown Grant Achatz’s Mac and Cheese: About 600 calories and 20 grams of fat, much of it delightfully saturated. Mac and Cheese isn’t diet food – lots of cholesterol here. Also, plenty of calcium. So there’s that….
Cost Breakdown of Grant Achatz’s Mac and Cheese: About $2.25 a serving.
Verdict / In the Future: When I told Stephen I was making Grant Achatz’s Mac and Cheese, his first question was: “Who is that?” His second was: “How fruity is this going to be?” Thankfully, the Archie Bunker of the kitchen was quite pleased with the smoky cheese-fest.
Molten Chocolate Pumpkin Mini Cakes
Makes 10 mini cakes or 1 large cake
- 1 ¾ cup flour (all purpose)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup Dutch dark cocoa
- ½ TBSP cinnamon
- ½ tsp allspice
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups pumpkin puree (I roasted a sweet cooking pumpkin at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and scooped out the flesh, but canned or frozen puree totally works)
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 egg
- 1 egg white
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 TBSP (yes!) vanilla extract
- Vegetable oil spray
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray large casserole pan or small cupcake pans or mini bundt pans or ramekins with vegetable oil and set aside.
- Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Put the wet ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and beat with an electric beater. Slowly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
- Spoon into bundt pans and place in the oven. (I put my mini pans on a cookie sheet to make getting them in and out of the oven easier).
- Cook for 25 minutes in mini pans, 45 in larger pan. Test done-ness by inserting a toothpick. Cool in pan for 15 minutes and unmold. Serve solo or with whipped cream.
Nutritional Breakdown for Molten Pumpkin and Chocolate Mini Cakes: About 250 calories and 7.5 grams of fat. Relatively (for cake) full of fiber – thank you pumpkin puree – and good fats.
Cost Breakdown for Molten Pumpkin and Chocolate Mini Cakes: About $1.25 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: If you have a major sweet tooth, you will need to pump up the sugar, but if you love dark chocolate, these are great. The molten filling is fantastic without being cloying and the pumpkin flavor is there, without being in your face or creating an odd texture. The pumpkin puree’s moistness also provides a great substitute for butter and more oil – you get the same tender results with about half of the fat.
Slightly Squashed Squash Souffle
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes 4 servings
- 3 TBSP butter, plus more for greasing
- 3 TBSP flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 TBSP sugar
- 2 cups pureed squash (I used butternut roasted in a 350 degree oven, frozen would work too)
- 2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 egg whites
- ½ TBSP salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- Pinch cream of tartar
- Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Melt butter in heavy saucepan and whisk in flour and cook for a few minutes, whisking the whole time. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until bubbling and thickened, a few minutes. Whisk in salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and sugar. Turn off the heat. Whisk in the squash and cheese and smooth out as much as possible. Whisk in the egg yolks.
- In an electric beater, whisk the egg whites, pinch of salt and cream of tartar until they hold stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. With a large rubber spatula, fold in about half of the egg whites into the squash mixture. Fold in the rest, being careful not to stir in the egg whites (gently folding them in will help the soufflé rise).
- Pour into generously buttered (seriously, don’t skimp – use at least 1 TBSP here) soufflé dish and pop in the oven, uncovered for 15 minutes. Loosely tent with foil and cook until set, about 20 more minutes. Serve immediately.
Nutritional Breakdown of Slightly Squashed Squash Souffle: About 400 calories and 18 grams of fat. Vertiginously high in cholesterol. Great source of protein.
Cost Breakdown of Slightly Squashed Squash Souffle: About $1.50 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: Next time, I’ll probably cut the amount of squash a bit, reduce the cheese, add an egg white and see if that creates more rise, but then it won’t be as decadent. What’s more important, the look or the taste? Stephen was convinced that I’d slipped bacon into the soufflé somehow, which I’ll take as a compliment.