Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cheese Choices for your Macaroni and Cheese

Picture of QuesoBeso with large Swiss cheese
Cheese is my thing. I jumped into the cheese world in 2009 and haven't looked back. I've spent time sampling, selling, portioning, labeling, talking, writing and eating all types of domestic cheeses. I consider myself a domestic cheese evangelist. I work with local wine shops (as QuesoBeso) to help stock their coolers with only the very best cheeses. 

Recently a few of the ladies at did a quick interview with me (at Camp Blogaway!) asking about my kid's favorite foods. My kids don't really have a true favorite as I rarely cook the same thing twice! But as a favorite comfort food, macaroni and cheese is always at the top of our list. 
At it's most basic, macaroni and cheese is a comfort food. In it's most creative forms it becomes a decadent indulgence worthy of a special occasion. Doing a quick google search will give you over 8 million macaroni and cheese recipes! Rather than simply point you to a few recipes, I thought I'd help you choose your cheeses which will steer you towards the perfect recipe selection for you and your family. 

Picture of Cheeses at a farrmer's marketAll About the Cheese

The cheese is the most important choice you will make for this recipe. Do not make your decisions without careful consideraton. Balancing the cheese choices for taste and creaminess is ideal. 

Cheddared Cheese (yes, it's a verb)

I love a good cheddar cheese with a nice acidic bite. And cheddar is the classic choice for macaroni and cheese. However, the more the cheddar is aged, the less creamy and more crumbly the cheese will become. For these reasons, it is best to either pair an older cheddar with something more creamy (Havarti, Jack, Colby, Fontina, Ricotta) or use a cheddar aged less than two year (no need to seek out Hook's 5 year cheddar!).

Fondue Flavor 

Rich, creamy and winey, fondue cheeses make a delicious macaroni and cheese. Traditionally, Gruyere, Comte and Emmental are used in fondue. Add a little cherry brandy (Kirsch) and white wine to your cream sauce for a true fondue taste.  However, you need not go full-on fondue to enjoy the nutty flavor of these large Swiss cheeses.  Adding just one to your mix can give a bold punch to a basic cheddar mix.

Picture of Black TrufflesTruffles for an Elevated Approach 

Truffled cheese adds a heady sexiness to your mac & cheese. Many recipes use truffle oil as an easy way to impart truffle flavor. Most truffle oils have an over the top manufactured truffle flavor that is quite distinctively not the seductive subtle essence of the truffle. I believe in the power of true truffles as found in truffled cheeses. 
A few examples are: Tartufello (truffled cow milk cheese by Pedrozo Dairy in California), Boschetto al Tartufo (truffled sheep milk from Italy) or Trufusion (truffled cow milk cheese from Independence Cheese in Oregon).  It's best to pair truffled cheeses with milder selections, such as Fontina, Ricotta, Colby or a mild Cheddar.  This will help let the truffle flavor come through in the final dish.

Go for the Goat

For creative flair, macaroni and cheese made with fresh goat cheese is an excellent choice. Fresh goat cheese has a creaminess similar to ricotta but will definitely have a chevre bite which needs to be embraced. By adding ingredients which pair well with goat cheese (fresh bright herbs, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers or roasted garlic cloves) you will enhance the entire dish.
Goat cheeses with more age have a more mellow and nutty flavor similar to the fondue cheeses listed above.
For those with cow milk sensitivity, an entirely goat mac & cheese could be made creating a unique twist.

Blasphemy but Reheats Beautifully

Often you will find Velveeta listed in a mac & cheese recipe. Although it's not really cheese, I do understand the motivation to add this bright yellow cheese food product to the dish.  The reason is stability. When you make a cream sauce for your mac & cheese it will bake up creamy and lovely. But when you reheat that bechemel/mornay sauce the next day, it's going to break (the oils will separate from the milk solids) and lose it's creamy texture. Velveeta acts as an emulsifier and keeps the sauce together.
If you know you'd like to reheat the leftovers, you can use the Velveeta trick OR find a recipe that adds an egg to the sauce (like this one from the Pioneer Woman). Adding an egg creates a loose custard texture to the sauce. Custards are stable; meaning, they won't break when you reheat them.

Add Some Cheesy Crunch

A crunchy cheesy and sometimes even spicy crumb topping is perfect for baked mac & cheese. Be sure to choose a salty, tangy cheese (parmesan or aged cheddar) to mix with the crumbs for your topping. You want this crust to have lots of cheesy good flavor as it hits the palate.

More Than a Side Dish

As a mom, I am quite tempted to make macaroni and cheese into a one dish meal. And really, you can put just about anything savory into your macaroni and cheese. So if you are looking for some ideas on how to create an amazingly hearty dish,  no need to look further than this fabulous chart from Food Republic which uses the shape of the pasta for inspiration.  

Using your cheese choices as your guide, you are sure to create a warm and comforting dish your family will love!

Now let's get to the kitchen and start cooking!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where to Look for Dinner Ideas

"What's for dinner?"

Everyday across America this simple question weighs heavily on the household cook. And as the day progresses the pressure mounts. We all want to eat well, but often we are out of ideas and don't want to think too much about something so... every day. So, where can we find dinner ideas without too much effort? Here are my go to places for inspiration. 

Picture of Asparagus at the Farmers Market, Dinner Ideas Seasonal
Eat Seasonally  Take a look at your calendar and give respect to Mother Nature's bounty. Need some help figuring out what's in season? Try using this Seasonal Food Guide, which uses your location to create a list of fruits and vegetables which are in season right now in your area of the country.

Take Requests 
This one is really a no brainer, but often overlooked. Most of us are cooking for more than ourselves. The easiest way to please our diners is to ask them what they'd like to eat! 
Take Advantage of the Situation
Picky eaters can effect your dinner choices. So, when they are away, use the opportunity to indulge in the foods they don't like. When your mushroom hating husband is out of town, why not have a mushroom feast? If you normally avoid spicy foods to appease your children's palates, wait for that sleep-over opportunity and get your chile on!

bright picture of grocery store sale mailersWhat's on Sale? or Use those Coupons!
Check out those colorful flyers your local grocer sends you and take advantage of some great prices. Coordinate with the seasonality guide and now you're making some really smart choices!

Food Media
Flip through a magazine and get some dinner ideas from the recipes. With today's technology there is no need to tear the page out, simply use your phone and take a picture of the recipe. Or browse through some food blogs during your lunch hour. Put your Pinterest playtime to good use and find an easy recipe that catches your eye. Or go old school, take out your favorite cookbook and find a favorite.  Even better, flip to a dog-eared page you have been meaning to try and this time, just do it!
Picture of ingredients from a pantry, Dinner Ideas Pantry ItemsLook in Your Pantry, Cupboard or Refrigerator
Find inspiration in the odd ingredients left lingering in your kitchen. Often we purchase a unique ingredient to make a specific dish. Give those stragglers new life! Google up a recipe which uses the ingredient and try something new!

You see, it's not so stressful.  Just use your noggin and keep cooking.