Saturday, April 9, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Macaroni and Cheese

Sometimes it almost seems as though the ladies at church all get together and plan what we're going to have on our potluck Sunday. One month during the winter nearly all of us brought some kind of soup. Last month, or maybe it was the month before, spaghetti was on the menu (for my part, I brought my crock pot lasagna, but it's in the same family). Last Sunday was apparently macaroni and cheese day. There were four or five crock pots of mac and cheese. They were all a bit different. One of the ladies added ham to hers. Although I asked the kids if they wanted me to add ground beef to ours, the resounding response was, "No!! Can we have it with bacon? Pleeeeeease?!?!?!?!" So, despite how I made it this time, you can jazz it up anyway you want. Bacon (a real crowd pleaser), ham, ground beef, grilled chicken, or you can try to make it a little healthier and add some broccoli florets. That wouldn't go over real big around here, but your family may like it.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni noodles                     Butter
Cheeses of your choice             Flour
Milk                                         Cream cheese
Salt                                          Pepper
Ground mustard                       Add-ins (optional)

Boil your noodles and grate the cheese. I grated some of mine, and some was pre-shredded. Like with the lasagna, don't boil the noodles the full 10 min. I think I cooked these about 8 - at least that's what I set the timer for, but I 'think' I may not have taken them off immediately. Run cold water over them in the colander just as soon as you dump them in; you want to stop the cooking process quickly. Pour the cold noodles in the crock pot and mix in about half of your cheese. In this case it was about a half pound each of mild and sharp cheddar, but I didn't really measure the sharp (the pre-shredded), and this was a large batch, filling my 7qt. pot.
Go ahead and pre-cut your cream cheese as well. You don't want your sauce to scorch while you do this later. I think I used about 3/4 of the package - approx. 6 ounces.
For a really creamy mac and cheese, we'll be making a kind of Mornay sauce. Ah-ha - French cooking 101. You didn't know I had it in me, did you? Well I don't, not really, but we'll pretend I do for this. Mornay sauce is a Bechamel (see? more French) sauce with cheese. Traditionally, they have white cheeses in them; Gruyere, parmesan, white cheddar, you get the picture. If you like those, go ahead and try. Ours will have cream cheese, motzerella, and cheddar. Bechamel is white sauce, or in Southern-girl talk, white gravy. French cooks would probably have a fit to hear it called that, but that's pretty much what it is; white gravy that is made with butter instead of the fat left in the pan when you fry meat. So, the first thing you need to do is make a rue, or since we're flinging around French terms here today, roux. Melt butter and add in your flour. In the photo above you can see mine simmering nicely. It was almost finished when I took the picture. You want to do this over med-low heat because you want to cook the roux, but you do not want to brown it - at all, you really don't. You can go ahead and add your salt, pepper (white pepper if you want a true Bechamel - but I like seeing those pepper flakes), and ground mustard just before adding the milk. If you wait to add the ground mustard after adding the milk it may form little clumps (yuck), so do it now.
Then, add your milk, whisking while you pour it in. You need to add at least half of what you'll end up needing right at the start or you may gets clumps, but since you probably won't make as much as I do, I can't really give you any measurements. If you don't add enough, vigorous whisking can correct the problem, especially if you pour more milk in as soon as you see the roux quickly soaking up all the milk and forming one big mass in the pan. I had a half pound of butter (1c.) and a heaping cup of flour in my dutch oven, so I added enough milk to come halfway up the side of the pan right at the start. I had to add more later, but that got me started without clumps.
For this, you're looking for a consistancy that will allow the sauce to "trace". Just like in soap making, it will hold up enough to see where you just poured it. See my squiggly line? Then you add in your cream cheese, cooking for a minute or two until it's nearly melted.
After that you start adding your other cheeses. Motzerella. All yummy-gooey cheese dishes should have motzerella in them. It melts so beautifully. I have no idea how much I added. I just dumped in what was left in the bag. I know ya'll appreciate my precision.
Cheddar - mild in this case. This was the other half of the pound I shredded earlier. See? I can measure. Sort of. Whisk in between the different cheeses. No science behind it. It will just make your life easier.
Lastly we'll throw in any of those add-ins you may want. Bacon this time - purely for the kids. You know it was. Stir it well and then pour it in your crockpot with your noodles and cheese. Trust me, you'll want to pour it in batches, stirring between pourings. Having a large, reasonably flat spoon (or maybe a very small oar) really helps when you're making a large batch.
Excuse the color on this. You knew I was the photographer didn't you? I did the best I could with it in editing. At least you get the general idea of what it should look like. You'll probably want to clean off the excess sauce around the top so it doesn't burn during cooking.
Then, as if 2+ pounds of cheese isn't enough, top the whole thing with a layer of cheese. Finely shredded sharp for this round. This was put in the fridge Saturday night and then put it back in the base and turned it on high for about an hour before we left for church. Once we got there we left it on high until the service was over and the serving table set up. Approximately another 2 hours. If you need to cook it longer, just turn it on low.

I usually make this the night we'll eat it, pouring it into a large (10"x15") casserole dish. When I do it that way I don't add the final layer of cheese until it's nearly done because it tends to sink to the bottom, or run to the middle. It doesn't do that in the crock pot unless your sauce is very thin. Just cook it 'til it's bubbly, pull it out and top it with cheese, and finish up just long enough to melt the cheese on top.

As T.Lynn says - Nummy!
post signature

No comments:

Post a Comment