I hadn't made macaroni and cheese in ages, it seemed. Which is pretty close to the truth..2 years is a long time to not have made macaroni and cheese considering how simple it is to throw together. I've never made a Gruyere Mac simply because it's too damn pricey for my grad student budget. But upon a recent peruse at my boy, TJ's, I noticed a Gruyere Cheddar. I bought a small block and took it home to sample the flavor and melting qualities: a-mazing! Definitely worth the trip back for a bigger block, some cremini mushrooms, an onion, and a dream. When you're making a béchamel always remember to pick up a melty kind of benign cheese. Since I wanted to keep my sauce a creamy white, I opted for Monterey Jack instead of an extra sharp cheddar, which sometimes adds a funky aftertaste when paired with super powerful cheeses and tends to melt gritty.
So here it is guys and dolls...
Cheddar-Gruyere, Caramelized Onion, Cremini Mushroom, what-the-hell how about some Bacon, Mac and Cheese
For the béchamel (aka cheese sauce)
1/2 stick butter
3 Tbs flour
2 1/2 - 3 cups milk (I used 2%)
3 cups of cheese (Cheddar Gruyere and Monterey Jack)
salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg (sprinkle of each)
1/2 tsp ground mustard
Over medium heat, melt the butter, sprinkle in the flour, and cook the two together for a couple minutes to get the raw out of the flour. Add the milk and stir, stir, stir. The mixture will seem super runny at first but it thickens up quite quickly. Drizzle in more milk if you find it's too tight. Turn the heat off and dump in the cheese - whisk until melted and creamy.
For the mix-ins
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 1/2 cups onion, thinly sliced
2 slices thick-cut bacon
1 Tb butter
splash of white wine, cooking sherry, or marsala
Couldn't be easier: Heat a couple Tbs of olive oil and start the onion on medium-low - let this get nice and brown and caramel-y. Add your mushrooms and sauté until cooked through, then the butter and wine. Stir until the liquid is cooked out and set aside to fry up your bacon. To be honest, you could cook the bacon and then all the onions/mushrooms in the bacon grease. Did I seriously just suggest you do that? Geez, good thing I'm not dating a cardiologist-to-be or anything...he'd never let me cook for him again.
For mac and cheese I like tiny, ridge-y pasta - I wanted to go Classic Mac so I opted for elbows. A little trick I do is drain the pasta and let it sit, pour a couple ladles of the cheese sauce into the same pot and let that heat up, and start adding the pasta a little at a time. Add more cheese sauce or pasta until you have a consistency you like. I added half the mix-ins and served with the other half on top, but if I were to do it again I wouldn't mix anything in - I would have liked to keep that creamy texture and I think the flavors of the toppings would pack more of a punch if they were kept separately.
**FYI: this makes a LOT of cheese sauce - just spoon the extra into a plastic Tupperware and freeze until you want to be naughty again. That's called planning ahead, man.