Sunday, January 15, 2006

new ways with mac & cheese, part II

I had a dinner party last night. It was one of those dinner parties where everything comes together, where every recipe turns out wonderfully and everyone's having a good time, talking for hours. Good food can definitely facilitate that. The menu: mustard-and-herb chicken from this month's Food & Wine, balsamic-roasted green beans, the crusty macaroni and cheese recipe from the NY Times, a salad with walnuts & pear dressing, and for dessert, molten chocolate cakes (I've made these before-- sometimes they unmold beautifully, sometimes they don't, but they always taste delicious).

The two recipes that I will absolutely 100% make again were the macaroni & cheese and the mustard-and-herb chicken. Amazing. The mac & cheese recipe, the second from the NY Times article on the perfect macaroni and cheese, blew the creamy recipe out of the water. (Actually, after making this one, I am pretty sure I will not return to the other recipe). This recipe was not grainy but flavorful, crunchy, creamy inside, a hint of spice... in short, unbelievable. There were two kids at our dinner party, a 6 and 9 year old, and they loved it, too, which impressed me because I've seen so many American kids who will only eat the stuff from the box.

The original article commented that American cheese has superior meltability, so the recipe is a mix of sharp cheddar and American. I couldn't find the American in the Publix supermarket, so I was shocked when I asked and discovered it was in the nonperishable food aisle-- not refrigerated at all. Okay, no big deal. It does melt perfectly. Basically this recipe is just cooked macaroni mixed with a ton of cheese, placed in a pan, milk poured on top, and cheese sprinkled over, then baked for a very long time until it develops a crust both on top and on the bottom.

The mustard-herb chicken thighs are prepared in a skillet that can go into the oven (my new cast iron skillet is wonderful-- very affordable at Ross Dress-for-Less). You saute them first, flip them over, smear them with mustard and place a breadcrumb coating on top, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes. The recipe directions are firm that you should use fresh breadcrumbs, not the stuff in a can, and in this case you really must do this. Yum, yum, yum. Here are the two recipes:

Crusty Macaroni & Cheese
3 Tblsp. butter
12 ounces extra sharp cheddar, coarsely grated
12 ounces American cheese, coarsely grated
1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt to taste
2/3 cup lowfat milk (using lowfat did not make a difference here)

Heat oven to 375. Coat 9 x 13 pan with 1 Tblsp. butter. Mix together the grated cheeses and set aside two cups. When pasta is cooked, toss in a large bowl with the rest of the cheese, cayenne, and salt. Place in baking dish and pour milk over top. Sprinkle reserved 2 cups of cheese on top, dot with remaining butter, and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes. Raise heat to 400 and bake another few minutes until crusty. (Recipe said 15-20 minutes of extra baking, but mine was already well-browned after 5.). Serves 8.

Mustard-and-Herb Chicken (Serves 2-- double for more people)
2 1-inch slices of country bread, torn
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino romano
1/4 cup olive oil
4 boneless chicken thighs
2 Tblsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tblsp. butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Pinch sugar
1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400. Pulse bread in food processor until finely shredded. Add garlic, rosemary, parmesan, season with salt & pepper to taste and combine. Add 2 Tlbsp. of olive oil and pulse just to moisten crumbs.

In an ovenproof skillet, heat 2 Tblsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, saute on one side until golden, about 6 minutes. Turn over, smear Dijon mustard over skin, and spoon bread crumbs on top, patting with back of spoon. Place skillet in oven and roast for 15 minutes or until crumbs are golden and crunchy. (I left mine in the oven, which I switched off, while I finished the rest of the dinner, and with thighs I don't think they dry out, although breasts would).

Sauce: I made this but the chicken really would have been fine on its own, without it. Saute onions in butter with sugar for 6-7 minutes until soft. Add lemon juice, cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Spoon onions onto plate, top with chicken.


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Robyn said...

I have been following your blog for a few years now and we have made this chicken numerous times and it is always delicious! I love how adventurous your food is and it always makes me think...maybe I could do that too! Thanks!