Thursday, December 13, 2007

What a Cheesy Idea!

Growing up, one of my all-time favorite dishes was macaroni and cheese. Given my all-American upbringing, that should come as no surprise... it has long been a favorite of children.

There were two variations -- only two -- that were acceptable to my fussy young palate. The first was the Kraft version out of the "blue box": tiny macaroni that never got very big, and a packet of powdered orange stuff that contained dry cheese and heaven only knows what else. I know, I know, it goes completely against everything I stand for now in the kitchen, but even well into grad school I would still get cravings for what our Canadian neighbors call the "Kraft Dinner."

The other variation that I would clamor for was the Chef Mother's homemade mac and cheese, with big tender macaroni curls, a thick and velvety homemade cheese sauce, and a buttery cracker-crumb topping. And if I were very lucky, she would have made extra cheese sauce to ladle over my toast the next morning.

What is it that we love so much about macaroni and cheese? It's the quintessential comfort food: a bland starch coated with creamy mild dairy products, with little seasoning to detract from the slippery pasta and filling sauce.

Trouble is, that combination doesn't exactly make for the healthiest of meals. As I grew older, I learned to love steamed broccoli thrown into the mix, but it still really boils down to carbohydrates and fat. And while I've got nothing against either, there's got to be a better and healthier way to enjoy this classic dish.

If you've been thinking the same thing, I've got good news for you. Bri over at Figs with Bri recently posted a thoroughly tempting recipe for Acorn Squash and Sage Macaroni and Cheese, and I knew I had to try it since I had one last acorn squash from the farmers' market sitting on the table.

Unfortunately, a little thing called a respiratory infection delayed my plans (for about two weeks), and when I could finally manage to enjoy dairy foods without coughing my lungs out, I invited the faithful Persephone over for a delicious dinner of home-cooked comfort food.

As you might expect, I couldn't quite leave the recipe alone. Bri used a combination of sage cheddar and jack cheeses for her version, but I knew that the remaining Gruyère in the refrigerator would be perfect in the dish. Aside from that, my "tweaks" resulted from the delay in making the dish: my cottage cheese had gone off, so I replaced it with plain yogurt, and my milk had gone slightly sour, adding a little extra tang to the dish.

Still, everything went together beautifully, and I made the best darn cheese sauce I've made in a long time. The squash and yogurt puree added the extra thickness and nutrition needed to propel this mac and cheese recipe into the ranks of The Best, right up there with the Chef Mother's recipe.

Of course, I got started with dinner well before Persephone arrived, so the kale I braised to go with the pasta ended up rather lifeless, though still well flavored from the garlic and cider vinegar I added to it, and it offered a good contrast to the creamy texture of the macaroni.

Though I made only a half-recipe, I had hoped to tuck some away for leftovers (and for lunch tomorrow). But by the time Persephone and I had scraped the last bits off our plates, we had decided that leftovers were for sissies and we were going to finish off the macaroni and cheese right then and there, by golly.

So we did. What bliss!

I won't repeat Bri's recipe here as there's just no improving on it -- though I think I may try it again and use a different cheese or even replace the sage with rosemary. Go visit her site and look it up, and enjoy some of the other beautiful and tempting dishes she has made. As for me, I'm sending out a big "Thanks!" to you, Bri!

Cheese, that's a good meal!


At 12/22/2007 5:44 PM, Blogger Bri said...

I just saw this post today. Thanks so much! I'm so glad you and Persephone enjoyed it. I think the emergency replacement of yogurt sounds like a great "tweak". The squash is so nice and sweet, the dish can easily go more sour. I'm so glad you even did the sage garnish as well. I'm sure the Gruyere was a fabulous addition as well. It's so funny, because I realize people could see the picture of it and think it was regular ol' orange cheddar mac n cheese since the squash colors it. Hmm, I may just have to make it again soon. I think I have all the ingredients, except fresh sage which seems to have dropped off the planet (or at least our local markets) the last couple weeks. YUM!

At 12/23/2007 7:41 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Part of the color came from the lighting in my kitchen... everything tends to look more golden when I photograph food there. And I confess, I had to get packaged fresh sage at the grocery store... not local at all!

But oh! sooooo gooooood.... :-)


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