JOURNAL: Marvelous Mac And Cheese Chaos

I've been working on my mac & cheese recipe for a while. Last week's manifestation, as prepared for the pleasure of The Sexy Blonde was one of my finest, although in a misguided attempt to appeal to her sophisticated tastes, I decided to reinforce the sharp cheddar with gruyere, which she seemed to like, but I thought was too much sharp on top of sharp and the gruyere was hard to incorporate into the sauce. There were a few other issues with the sauce that I need to hammer out, but it came out well and the leftovers seem to have improved with age.

My fascination started with my dear mother's gorgeous baked macaroni and cheese, a straightforward and divine dish made with sharp Cabot cheddar that we anticipated each holiday season and fought ruthlessly over the crispy corner sections. I love this family recipe for its simplicity and high cheese and butter content as a side to accompany a robust holiday meal, but when I want mac to be the centerpiece, I tend to go for something stickier and more complex.

Unfortunately, I have overindulged my desire for complexity and the mac and cheese fascination has taken on a life of it's own. It's like the Michael Mina Mac, or "macaroni and cheese served three ways." This isn't just three variations, but an evolutionary development in three courses that I should never serve all together.

I'm trying to devise a single recipe that will function first as a stove-top mac right out of the pot, equivalent to Kraft, but actually made with cheese; thinner and more fluid, hot on the side of your plate. From there, with minimal alteration to the compound, I'd like to be able to pour it into a baking dish, add a crispy cheese and breadcrumb topping and bake it to a more dense and sticky consistency. Third, I would be able to leave the baked mac in the fridge overnight to solidify, slice it up, bread it and deep fry it like a mozzarella stick.

I would also like to see the flavors evolve as the dish becomes more complicated. It starts out seasoned simply with salt and pepper, red pepper, nutmeg and mustard, served like you would the boxed variety. I am thinking of making the baked dish more savory with bacon or prosciutto and scallions or shallots, and spicy peppers would be added to a portion of the leftovers and then chilled, cut into chicken nugget (or fish stick) size pieces to be breaded and deep fried. I could even spoon dollops of warm mac and cheese into emptied jalapeños, and fry them up as poppers. Fried mac could be served with dipping sauces like marinara, ranch or an avacado & sour cream concoction. All that I have left to discover is a 4th incarnation. Could I come up with a macaroni and cheese dessert? Maybe something with pears. It seems kind of evil, but it could work.

I've been playing with my recipe for a while, inspecting a combination of recipes including those online from Charlie Palmer, Giada De Laurentiis, Martha Stewart, Alton Brown, Bon Appétit, Emeril, The Icon Grill, Paula Deen, and Cooks Illustrated, but my favorite recipe comes from the New York Times, but is not the one that shows up online so often, which ran with this article. In fact, I have not been able to find it online at all, but this one from Gourmet is pretty close, and I have photocopied the page from my Sunday Times Magazine several times when friends ask me for a reliable, remarkable recipe, but it still has yet to meet my three-in-one requirement...and you thought I was taking it too seriously before the Holy Trinity allusion.

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