cook the book: the family table's macaroni + cheese

About two months ago, we flew back east for the wedding of my husband’s best friend. Andrew (the groom) and Matt (my husband) have known each other since they were in kindergarten. If you ask anyone who knows these two guys well, they would all agree that when Matt and Andy are in the same room- or even on the phone- they kind channel each other. Not in a creepy sort of way, but in a way that is a testament to over three decades of friendship. And their friendship is something special; it's something truly unique. 

Matt and Andy both love music, art, and searching for off-the-grid food spots. They also love road trips, and every summer that we were living in Brooklyn (7 to be exact) they embarked on journeys that took them to places as obscure as Centralia, PA and Morgantown, West Virginia. There was also the summer when they departed for Toronto and changed their voicemail message to inform callers they would be "traveling out of the country" - as if heading a few hours north constituted a major international excursion. They spent time boating around Lake Placid, and in Vermont where it rained non-stop the summer they visited, the two of them camped out at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Store- which happens to be the most popular tourist destination in the state. Let's just say these two have spent a lot of time together and they know each other well. And since I've been in a relationship with Matt since 2002 (yikes, that's 12 years already), I've grown to know Andy too…and I love him just like a brother.

When Matt and I were trying to make this move to Colorado work, Andy let Matt camp out in his apartment. Andy’s kitchen (affectionately dubbed the "K-Room") was where Matt slept on a futon mattress for 8 months as he commuted back-and-forth between Brooklyn (where he was still working as a public defender for Legal Aid) and Denver (where he was applying for jobs). Did I mention that he crashed with Andy for 8 months?! Not many relationships would survive that duration or inconvenience, but their friendship grew stronger.

Anyway, back to Andy’s wedding. He married one of the nicest people I've ever met and their celebration was beautiful. We laughed, we cried, we ate, we danced…and yes, we drank and made toasts well into the late hours of the night (and early morning). When we got back from the wedding I felt homesick. So did Matt. Not for New York City as a place- for my lifestyle doesn’t really jive with the city anymore and I hardly recognize it as the place of my childhood- but for the people, our closest friends. Our relationships that span decades

Back in my Colorado kitchen I decided to make comfort food... and I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than the Family Table's mac and cheese. The Family Table is one of my favorite cookbooks and it's a collection of staff meals from the chefs and sous chefs at Danny Meyer's various NYC restaurants. This pasta dish reminds me of home, good friends and lots of laughter…and I'll have a big pan of bubbly, cheesy goodness waiting for Andy and his new wife Carly when they come to visit us again in Colorado. And I can't wait…

Happy eating,

“The Dish You Love The Best” Macaroni & Cheese
10 – 12 servings

For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup thinly sliced shallots (3-4 medium)
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups good quality vegetable stock (the book has a recipe for stock, but I went with store-bought)
3 cups heavy cream
3 cups coarsely grate sharp cheddar (about 1 pound)
1 1/4 cups grated Grana Padano (about 7 ounces)*
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt

Butter for the pan
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 pound penne, fusilli, or other short pasta
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs or fine dried bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Grana Padano*

* The first time I made this I was able to find Grana Padano cheese. The second time I made this dish I couldn’t find any, so I picked up a very good quality Parmesan from Cured in Boulder and it worked beautifully.

TO MAKE THE SAUCE: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the thyme, and cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

Slowly add the flour, stirring constantly, and cook for 5 minutes, so that the flour loses its raw taste. Add the stock (very slowly), stirring constantly, then increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil. (If you add the stock too quickly, the roux will break.) Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the flavors come together.

Add the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, 7 to 10 minutes longer. Strain the sauce into a bowl.

Clean the saucepan, add the sauce, and return it to low heat. Add the cheeses and the mustard, stirring constantly. Once the cheese is completely melted, season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from heat. (You can make the sauce up to 1 day ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature and reheat slowly before using.)

TO ASSMEBLE AND BAKE: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-x-13-inch baking dish.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add the salt. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir, and cook until just al dente. Drain well.

Combine the pasta with the sauce and pour it into a baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the panko and the Grana Padano (or good quality Parmesan). Sprinkle it over the pasta. Bake until the top is golden brown and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve (with a smile!).

A Snowy Saturday and A Shout-Out to Brooklyn (Dumac and Cheese)

I love snowy days here in Denver, Colorado. Unlike the Northeast, where snow is a harbinger of cold things to come and you really don't thaw out till mid-March, the snow here will likely melt in a day or two and then temperatures will go back to 50 degrees. The sun will be out shining until the next snow fall. There aren't huge berms of snow (like the 4 foot mound that stayed on my old corner in Brooklyn for months) and you never get to know just how many dogs actually live on your block (know what I'm talking about?). Here, the strong sun and high altitude causes the snow to melt, seemingly without any puddles. Evaporation is a powerful force of nature around these parts.  
So today, the morning after it snowed about 6 inches, I took the boys out for a little morning ride in our new (pink) sled. One man who was shoveling his walkway shouted, "looks like she's having one helluva time." By 'she' the man meant Otis, so I explained that pink was the only color sled left in the store. Otis loved it. Theo, not as much...
We live in the Highlands section of Denver, at least for the time being. The neighborhood has an awesomely quirky housing stock and an eclectic collection of architectural styles- everything from American Craftsman and bungalows to hyper-modern pre-fabricated design. It's fun to walk around because there are so many great details everywhere you look.
We were outside for about an hour and a half and then I started getting hungry. I mean it's a real workout carrying a 14 pound infant in a sling and pulling a 28 pound toddler. So we turned around and headed home.  
Knowing full well that a salad or 'something light' just wouldn't cut it on a day like today, I decided that I had to make either: a stew, a hearty minestrone soup or some macaroni and cheese. I went with option number three. I thought about my favorite mac-n-cheese from Martha Stewart, but I wanted to try a different recipe. I had one for DuMont's Dumac and Cheese (by way of The New Brooklyn Cookbook)...and I conveniently had Gruyére and heavy cream in the house.
It seemed so appropriate that I make this Dumont dish today because tonight one of our closest friends is having her Supper Club debut in Brooklyn! So shout out to Kathyrn of Cooking Inside the Box and Whiskey & Salt Supper Club. We'll be thinking of you. Good luck. xo 
* * * 
About this Mac-and-Cheese: 
"No truffle oil, no weird stuff.  Make a good sauce, buy good cheese.  That's it." 
- Polo Dobkin, Dumont
DuMac and Cheese (Courtesy of The New Brooklyn Cookbook)
Serves 6
• 1 pound radiatore, elbow macaroni, or fusilli
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cups whole milk
• 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 pound Gruyère, grated, divided
• 1/2 pound sharp white cheddar, grated, divided
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, toss with the olive oil in a large bowl, and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; bring to a gentle simmer.
4. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue mixing with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a pale golden color, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk and cream mixture to the flour mixture, whisking constantly to incorporate. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally to keep the mixture from burning. Add half the Gruyère and half the cheddar and whisk until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the cooked pasta and toss well to combine. Pour the pasta into a buttered 9 x 13-inch baking dish or a 3-quart gratin dish. Top with the remaining Gruyère and cheddar and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Allow the mac and cheese to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Martha's Macaroni and Cheese

This is the best macaroni and cheese I've ever made.  I love it.  I make it once a month or so.  It's absolutely perfect for a chilly, late-autumn night and you know those are coming...
Thanks Martha!

Martha's Macaroni and Cheese (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (plus)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces grated sharp white cheddar cheese (I like to use a Dubliner Irish)
1 cups (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1/2 cups (about 2 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3/4 to 1 cup of Panko or bread crumbs (enough to cover top layer)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 
In a high-sided skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cheddar cheese, and  Gruyère (or Pecorino Romano)*; set the cheese sauce aside. 
[*Save some of the hard cheese (let's say 1/2 cup) for the top layer.  Sprinkle it on right before you add the panko or bread crumbs.]
Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.  Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes (time may vary depending on your oven heat). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Serves 6 (double recipe for 12)