Comfort Foods – Mac & Cheese from Bechamel

As October heads toward November, I find myself daydreaming about comfort foods.  Y’know the hearty, savory, soothing food of our youth.  For me, it was coming home from school to the aroma of gently simmering beans and fresh made biscuits in the oven — the type of bean didn’t matter!  Butter, Great Northern, Lima.  Ahhhhhh.

Or beef stew with more fresh made biscuits.

My favorite day was Sunday.  My mom usually cooked fried chicken, collards or cabbage, potato salad or mac & cheese — depending on the season.    I didn’t like mac & cheese as a child, much preferring potatoes or rice.

But now, mac & cheese comes to mind as one of my comfort foods.  Probably because I’ve had some fantastic mac & cheese dishes in restaurants and those dishes have colored my Sunday dinner memories.

Mac & Cheese
Mac & cheese in cast iron skillet fresh out the oven!

Today starts a series of posts on the 5 Mother Sauces of classic French cooking:  Béchamel, Veloute, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Classic Tomate.

Mac & Cheese is basically cooked pasta coated with a cheese béchamel sauce.  Cheese béchamel sauce being a ‘child’ of the mother sauce.  Good place to start my journey into the 5 Mother Sauces as well as satisfy my craving for comfort food.

I didn’t realize how simple and easy mac & cheese is.  The important decision is the quality of the ingredients.  Buy the best butter and cheese you can afford.  They truly give the dish its flavor and scrimping will only make you feel it wasn’t “that good.”

Ingredients for Mac & Cheese
Ingredients for Mac & Cheese

I didn’t grate my cheese the first few times, I cubed it — DUMB.   It wastes heat and time to wait for cubed cheese to melt.  Spend the minutes early on grating your cheese or buy it grated.

Mac & Cheese
Cubed Cheese ready for Béchamel Sauce

Grate your cheese.

Mac & cheese
Bacon in cast iron skillet

Crisp your bacon.  For 2 reasons.  1) you want the bacon grease that it renders out.  2) it adds delicious texture to your Mac & Cheese.  The crispness of the bacon enhances the creaminess of the sauce and the gentle bite of the pasta.  So good!

I like crispy pasta so I like to add the pasta to the hot skillet before I add the sauce.  You can  put everything in a casserole dish if you don’t like crispy pasta.  You’ll get more creamy than crispy.

Mac & Cheese
Mac & Cheese

What more can I say?  This dish is delicious with a light body red wine.  I tried it with a Sauvignon Blanc and the combo didn’t thrill me.  The Mac & Cheese was too rich for the white wine and I kept thinking, “this needs a red.”  So there ya go!

Mac & cheese
A Serving of Mac & cheese

This is comfort food at its best.  Hope you’ll try it and bring it in for your co-workers.

Comfort Foods - Bechamel
All-American comfort food, Macaroni & Cheese, topped with crispy bacon.
Author:
Cuisine: American
Recipe type: Side Dish
Ingredients
  • 1 box pasta of your choice (elbow, penne, shells, rigatoni)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3 - 3½ c milk
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 8 oz block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 1 cup grated Italian blend cheese
  • ½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Put a #8,9 or 10 cast iron skillet on the stove. Add 3-4 slices thick cut bacon and bring heat to medium. Cook, turning every now and then until slices are brown and crispy. Drain and set aside to cool.
  3. Put skillet in oven to keep warm. Use existing bacon grease and add more, or add olive oil.
  4. Add ¼ cup salt to pot of boiling water. Don't be stingy. This is your only chance to flavor the pasta.
  5. Add box of pasta to boiling salted water. Boil for 4-6 minutes, until just short of al dente. The pasta should be chewy but not taste starchy. Drain.
  6. Break egg into a small dish and stir. Set aside.
  7. While pasta cooks, make the béchamel sauce:
  8. Melt butter in a saucepan heated to medium high. Let the butter melt until the bubbles subside and the butter is golden brown.
  9. Stir in flour. Reduce heat to low and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. You are making a roux and you don't want to brown/burn it. You want to keep the color as light as possible. You need to allow the flour time to cook and blend with the butter.
  10. Slowly whisk in the milk and stir. Stirring helps remove lumps and smooths out the sauce.
  11. Add nutmeg and mustard. Keep stirring and allow the milk to come to slow boil. As it comes to a boil, the milk will thicken.
  12. Once the milk thickens, scoop out ¼ cup and slowly whisk the milk into the beaten egg.
  13. Add the tempered egg to the pot. Stir.
  14. Taste the sauce and salt & pepper to taste. If you like heat, add cayenne or red pepper flakes.
  15. Add all cheeses to sauce and stir until cheeses melt into sauce, approximately 2-4 minutes.
  16. Remove skillet from oven and add drained pasta to it. You should hear the sizzle from the hot cast iron. Pour the béchamel sauce over it and stir to mix well. Crumple the bacon and add to the skillet. Stir again.
  17. Sprinkle a layer of cheese on top. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and brown.
  18. Serve!

 

BlogHerFood 2013 and Austin Texas

I’m sick.  No ifs, ands or buts.  I came back from BlogHerFood 2013 in Austin yesterday and by the time we landed I was ready for bed.

Austin is fantastic! Big enough to get lost in yet small enough to not feel lost.

It started off innocently enough — flight on Southwest to Austin.  Except this flight was a PARTY PLANE filled with LA hipsters heading to ATX Television Festival in Austin.  A very social group of hipsters.  Boy did I feel old.

Southwest didn’t disappoint with its penchant for witty surprise!  Southwest sponsored the Party Plane and its music program, Live @ 35, was the star attraction.  Suddenly, the entire plane was being serenaded by the talented Teddy Geiger.  Not being a hipster, I have no idea who he was but he has a nice voice and is very easy on the eyes.

Welcome to Austin!

Guess what I also learned?  Drinking in Austin is dirt cheap, especially in live music bars.  Should I be embarrassed  by my 10 bar crawl on Thursday night.  I say NOT! Especially at $3 a cocktail with Tito’s Handmade Vodka.  Tito’s Vodka is easy to drink and doesn’t leave me hurting in the morning.  (I know this to be fact now.)

Sixth Street is chock full of bars, pubs, and  honky tonks.  I did my best to represent the mature crowd in Austin.

Easy Tiger Beer Garden

This bar sign was my mantra:  EASY TIGER.  That’s way it was 10 bars instead of 20!

My BlogHerFood 2013 conference started bright and early on Friday.

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I didn’t make breakfast but I was there for the 1st session, lunch and the afternoon sessions. BlogHerFood is one of the premier food blogging conferences and this is the 2nd year I’ve attended.  As last year, it was a great opportunity to meet other food bloggers and get some intense learning.

Several sponsors captured my attention and I can’t wait to use their products

POMPEIAN OILS – they had the best chocolate chip cookies made with Pompeian oil instead of butter.  I can’t wait to try this recipe!  A huge thank you for the FULL SIZE samples of their Mediterranean blend oil and their Grapeseed oil.

Bob’s Red Mill – hands down, one of the best grain companies in the country.  I love Bob’s Red Mill products and am excited about their new line of ancient grains.  Thank you for the sample packs and coupons for my next purchases.

Canadian Lentils – The Canadian Lentils association sponsored the Recharge Lounge and boy, was the food excellent!

073

I love lentils and beans but I also love meat.  The lentil stuffed mushrooms will be at my next dinner party.  Heck, I may have a dinner party just to showcase the fantastic lentil recipes I had! It was only my upbringing that prevented me from stuffing my face with the lentil brownies every time I walked by.

While the food at the conference was good, the food in Austin is simply  AMAZING.   Austinites are proud of their locally grown produce and meat and that pride shows in the menus.  There’s BBQ (hello, this is Texas!), Tex-Mex (in case you missed the part about this is Texas), and lots of other cuisines, most of them showcasing local ingredients prepared simply.    The only odd thing was breakfast … where do Austinites eat breakfast in downtown Austin?   Sixth Street doesn’t start waking up until noon-ish!

I’m planning a girl’s weekend in Austin in August — I only hope the heat doesn’t kill me.  But it might worth it after a fantastic meal.

World Food Championships Las Vegas

Sometimes pictures are all I need, especially food porn from World Food Championships in Las Vegas:

 

There’s so much more to say about the World Food Championships but for now, I need to look at photos of food!  Glorious food!

 

(if I’m honest, I’ll admit that the thought of beef or pork right now turns my stomach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Food Championships Las Vegas

Woohoo! Off I went to the inaugural World Food Championships in Las Vegas as a sweepstakes winner  The Daily Meal.  A foodie’s dream 3-day weekend and I was thrilled to attend.

Thursday evening was the WFC Champions Reception benefitting Keep Memory Alive (KMA) held at the Paris Hotel & Casino’s pool.  Welcome Competitors!

World Food Championships
World Food Championships
An Ice sculpture at the entry to the World Food Championships Reception

Delicious small bites at stations scattered around the pool, with 2 liquor bars.  There was risotto, ceviche, sushi and sashimi, pork belly, short ribs, and several types of meatballs.  As example,

World Food Championships
BBQ Pork Meatball on Pee Wee Potato Salad Sign
World Food Championships
Delicious! BBQ Pork Meatball on Pee Wee Potato Salad

To say I was thrilled that the bar had Belevedere vodka is a slight understatement! (I pass on showing a pic of my drinks)  On the other hand, my favorite nibble — without exception — was the

World Food Championships
Fried Bacon Mac & Cheese on White Cheddar Sauce
World Food Championships
OMG! Fried Bacon Man & Cheese on White Cheddar Sauce

Yeah…LE SIGH.  LE SIGH again.  I guess I should sigh 6 times because that’s how many I ate.  Don’t judge me until you’ve been tempted by these.  They were that good.

Our host, Adam Richman, in opening the competition, spoke eloquently not only food and the World Food Championships but also of Keep Memory Alive.

World Food Championships
Host Adam Richman welcoming competitors to World Food Championships

Food is what connects us to those we love yet there’s nothing more devastating than the loss of a loved one’s mind, personality and memories.

KMA strives to create greater awareness of neurocognitive disorders, educate families about cutting edge treatments, research and caregiver services, and promote risk reduction through lifestyle behaviors that encourage healthy brain aging.  (source: http://www.keepmemoryalive.org)

Competitors are home cooks, restaurateurs and caterers and each of them won a qualifying competition to earn the invitation.  Truly these are the best of the best within the 7 categories.

World Food Championships
2 Members of Team “This is It” from LaGrange, Texas, competing in BBQ competition

 

World Food Championships
Everette and Penny Brown, Team Swine Time BBQ, from Myrtle Beach SC, competing in BBQ competition

 

Kaylynn and Kurt of Team “Insane Chili Posse” from Tucson AZ, competiting in Chili competition

 

World Food Championships
Winona Krieger of Sadie’s Pantry, competing in Side Dish Competition
Two Judges – World Food Championships

It was a fun start to an intense competition!

IFBC 2012 Portland Oregon – Day 1

IFBC 2012 in Portland Oregon.   2.5 days of engaging and enlightening interaction with food bloggers.  Just wow!

Conference started Friday afternoon and continued jam-packed until Sunday afternoon.  Friday started with lunch hosted by Organic Valley but not before I oohed and aahed at the Oxo table.   LOVE OXO products and have for years.

OXO Display @ IFBC

Organic Valley’s lunch was to introduce its cheese slices  and, keeping with that theme, lunch was grilled cheese and apples.  Although delicious, there were no offerings for attendees with dietary concerns (gluten-intolerance, vegan, etc).

Best moment – running into MeganTheGFVegan, a charming food blogger from Canada I met in June!  I didn’t know she was coming (note to self: read attendee list next time).

Next best moment?  Chatting with my tablemates about Doctor Who.  Wheeeeeeeeeee! I didn’t expect to meet Whovians at a food blogger conference.  Candace, author of the blog, Candace Karu, and Tara, author of the blog, TeaRelish, are devoted Whovians and our 10-15 min chat was so much fun.  Even better, Candace works for the Cabot Creamery Cooperative!  Talk about some great cheese.

The live food blog event showcased Oregon products.  10 companies each had 5 minutes to pitch their products while we tweeted or blogged about them.  Fortunately for me, most of them ship outside the state.

PEOPLE! Ya’ll need to check out the following:

  1. Jacobsen Salt Co – hand-harvested Sea Salt from the Oregon coast.  Domestic salt that competes with better known European sea salts.
Jacobsen Salt Co
  1. Rogue Creamery – Oregon Blue Cheese that will knock your socks off
  2. F/V Sonia’s Wild Albacore Tuna – this was the most amazing canned tuna you will ever eat.  It tastes fresh, slightly salty and delicious.
  3. Packer Orchards & Bakery – the Spiced Vanilla Pear butter!  Awesome
  4. The Schmid Family Farm – the marionberry jam with cream cheese on crackers.

Following all this deliciousness, I went to my 1st session: Building Community Online and Offline presented by Keren Brown of Foodportunity and The Frantic Foodie.

What a great session!  Keren is an animated outspoken speaker with lots of great ideas for building a community.

My purpose for going to the conference was twofold: to learn more technical blogging aspects and, more importantly, to connect with other bloggers and build relationships.   Keren’s session was perfect.