Tuesday, February 28, 2012

iron skillet mac and cheese

Last week, I shamelessly invited myself to my brother's for dinner. He had called to see if he could borrow my cast iron skillet, because he and his girlfriend were planning to make fried rice and jalapeño cornbread for dinner (a nice, well-rounded meal if you ask me). Before I could stop myself (I have a slightly faulty filter), I had told him that of course he could borrow my skillet, and what time was dinner?

Between the four of us, we barely managed to eat half of the rice and maybe about a quarter of the cornbread. Apparently when you have 14" skillets at your disposal, that's what happens. Since my skillet was used for the cornbread, I ended up taking most of the leftovers home, where the bread stared at me for a couple days as I tried my hardest to avoid eating all of it in one sitting.

As I went through the fridge a couple days later, trying to figure out what to make for lunch/dinner/it's-all-the-same-on-the-weekend, I realized I had a massive quantity of cheese. I guess over the course of the last few recipes, I managed to stock up bit-by-bit (because of course, each recipe just had to use different cheeses). And what do you do with enough cheese to feed an entire city? You make super creamy, only-good-in-moderation-if-moderation-is-one-bite, macaroni and cheese.

I made the mac in my iron skillet because it's probably my most favorite baking tool as of late. I love putting together the cheese sauce on the stove, and finishing off the whole dish in the oven to get those wonderful brown, bubbly and crispy bits on the top (if you take too much of them for your dish, I will probably give you the stink eye until you tradesies). Topped with fresh parsley and buttery toasted breadcrumbs (I used the leftovers from the cornbread {and it all comes together! [can you tell I liked math as a kid?]}), this is one of the best comfort foods around. It's almost easier to make in batches, which makes it a great option for weekday lunches too! Totally a win-win-win.

Iron Skillet Mac and Cheese (serves a million)

1 box/1 lb macaroni (I used whole wheat)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup breadcrumbs of choice
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
(1/2 jalapeño, minced - optional, if you want a kick)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 1/2 cups milk (higher fat is better, but low-fat or skim work, too. It'll just take longer)
1 1/2 cups of your favorite meltable cheese(s)
   I used: 1/4 cup cheddar
              1/4 cup gorgonzola
              1/2 cup ricotta (I highly recommend using ricotta regardless)
              1/2 cup mozzarella
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350*. Cook pasta according to box directions and set aside. In a large saucepan on medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add garlic and jalapeño, saute for about a minute (careful not to burn the garlic). Whisk in flour to create a roux, and constantly whisk for a couple minutes until the roux starts to darken in color. Slowly add milk and whisk until it begins to thicken, which will take anywhere from a few minutes to 10 minutes or so, depending on the fat content of the milk you chose. You can add the powders while stirring at this point. Once the sauce thickens, add cheese and allow it to melt in, stirring occasionally. Stir in sour cream, then salt and pepper to taste.

For the breadcrumbs, melt the third tablespoon of butter in a pan (I used my skillet to minimize cleanup), and toss breadcrumbs in. Let them cook with the butter for a few minutes until they brown up a bit. Remove from the pan. Dump pasta into the skillet (you could use a 9x13 baking dish, too), then top with cheese and mix everything to make sure the cheese is all up in the pasta's business. Sprinkle parsley on top, then breadcrumbs on top of that. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and darken. Let it sit for a few minutes to set (it'll be easier to serve), and then serve.

Once more, with feeling!

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