In which people get the animal fats they want and deserve.

All cow fat, all the time.

Let everyone’s collective panties be unbunched: tofu doesn’t live here any more.

I’m not giving up on integrating more vegetarian or vegan meals into my repertoire, but I am giving up on frankenfoods like tofu. It’s still not in the same category as truly unearthly “foods” like quorn, but my kitchen doesn’t need it. Healthy vegetarian foods are easily assembled using whole, fresh ingredients.

That’s not what this is about, though. Well, at least the “healthy” part: this is real deal mac and cheese, the kind made with a classic butter-and-flour roux, milk that has been expelled from a real live cow and not extruded from a bean of some kind, and a shit-ton of cheese. And it feels GOOD, SO GOOD, right up to and including the moment that the final particle of arterial plaque settles in your carotid artery, stopping all bloodflow to the brain.

Suck on that, straight-edgers.

While I made the mac and cheese, I snacked on some sweet sopressata – pork! – and a baguette, and washed them down with a cold Leinie’s.

Those who either live in the upper Midwest or attended college there, as I did, will be familiar with Leinenkugel’s and will understand my joy at finally locating an east coast retailer who regularly carries multiple varieties. This particular evening I went with the Berry Weiss, in remembrance of a senior year trip to Milwaukee’s Summerfest when I got hammered on this marvelous marriage of beer and juice in order to endure a live performance by KC and the Sunshine Band my so-called friends insisted on seeing* (I told you I drank sissy drinks when I was in college). Good times.

*I assume this choice was made for the perceived ironic value. However, I have very sensitive irony-dar and never detected any irony emitting from KC, whose performance was oh-so-painfully sincere.

I like to get my cheese from slightly pissy New York cows.

For a few years, my sister was getting us restaurant gift certificates for Christmas. One year, she found a now-defunct joint called the Herban Kitchen, a small comfort food-style restaurant that used only organically grown/raised, local foods. It was my first exposure to both grass-fed beef and to mac and cheese that didn’t originate in a blue box (mac and cheese being one of the horrifying American foods my mother was psychically unable to lower herself to prepare).

The Herban Kitchen mac was made with three kinds of cheese, cheddar, jack and mozzarella, and came in individually-sized cast iron skillets with delightfully crusty tops that we would fight over until we learned better and started ordering two portions. Using it as my model I went home determined to re-create it, and three-cheese has been the standard for my mac ever since (although the mozzarella was eventually replaced by fontina). For a normal batch – which ’round these parts feeds two for dinner with a few days’ leftovers – I unapologetically use a full pound of cheese. Which explains why I make this roughly twice a year.

The sauteed dog vomit is what give it that certain “I don’t know what.”

Of course, it wouldn’t do to merely use a pound of cheese. We must have butter, whole milk and half-and-half as well.

I use a bechamel to make mac and cheese, which means a roux. If it were up to me most dishes would start with bechamel.  Of course, if all things were up to me, my dogs would know how to do the laundry while I’m at work and the Spice Girls would never have exsited.* You can use lots of different fats to make a roux, but I always do equal parts butter and flour, cooked together just long enough to avoid a raw flour-y flavor but not long enough to take on any color.

*At the very least, I’d be happy if the dogs could get some kind of manual labor jobs that don’t require opposable thumbs and would contribute to the mortgage.Do you have pets?  They’re fucking moochers is what they are.

Affront to the vegans #1. From the artist’s own collection.

I like to live on the edge, so I use both whole milk and half-and-half to make my bechamel. You could omit the half-and-half, and could probably even downgrade to 2% milk, but know that I would lose all respect for you.

Affront to the vegans, #2. From the artist’s own collection.

Once the milk and roux come up to a bare boil and FULL THICKENING POWER is activated, the cheese quickly disappears into the pot; it melts down so quickly that I barely had time to snap a photo before the whole pile disappeared like an unlucky squirrel in a tar pit. The resulting sauce is luscious and beautifully smooth, with nary a grain in sight.

Bechamel is one of the French “mother sauces,”* and bechamel + cheese creates a Mornay sauce. I’m pretty sure this sauce is not what the French had in mind when they categorized the world’s sauces. Take that, France.
*These are the seven basic sauces that guilt-trip you when you forget to call.

Affront to the vegans #3, soft-porn focus. From the artist’s own collection.

It’s not that cheese is not enough in and of itself, but some additions are tasty: white pepper, garlic powder, dry mustard and a little nutmeg. Smoked paprika can be nice as well, and will give you a much bolder mac and cheese.

Once the cheese and all the spices are fully incorporated, the sauce is done; no further cooking is required. There are people that introduce some egg at this point, which will give you a custardy mac and cheese when baked, but I like plain old oozey cheese.

Just wait: trust me.

Slightly undercooked pasta ensures a seamless meld with the cheese sauce. I like rotini here, because all the little crevices are ideal for carrying maximum amounts of cheese sauce. You could just toss pasta with the sauce and eat this as-is, but then you’d miss out on the crusty top that comes with baking. And you don’t want that, do you? Say no.

So: into a baking dish, sprinkled with plain bread crumbs, and into a 350 oven for 20 minutes or so, with an extra 5 minutes under the broiler to aid in crispification. I know, I could fancy up the breadcrumbs, but I just don’t think it’s worth the pay-off. One of my favorite things about mac and cheese is that it’s relatively quick and painless – the cheese sauce pulls together in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta, and then you get to nap while it’s in the oven.

And this is your reward.

I’ve learned the hard way that this needs to sit for a few minutes after you pull it out of the oven.


I mean, look at that. Do I really need to say anything? It’s crunchy, chewy and gooey all at the same time. It’s comforting and straightforward, but the mix of cheeses gives it a complexity that puts Velveeta to shame.

If you were so inclined, you could let it cool entirely and chop it into chunks which are highly amendable to breading and deep frying, possibly in bacon fat. But you didn’t hear that from me, and I will deny it three times before the cock crows if anyone tries to bring a McDonald’s-style lawsuit against me for causing childhood obesity. (Seriously, though, it’s SO GOOD.)

Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb. rotini pasta
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. AP flour
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 1/2 c half and half (or another 1 1/2 c. whole milk)
8 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
4 oz. monterey jack, grated
4 oz. fontina, grated
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/2 c. plain bread crumbs
salt to taste

Pre-heat your oven to 350

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt and the pasta; cook until nearly done but not quite, a minute or two less than the package directions.

Make the roux: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, add the flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 2-3 minutes; if the roux starts to color, turn the heat down.

Add the milks to the roux and whisk to combine. Keep the mixture over medium heat and bring it to a bare boil. The full thickening power of the roux doesn’t come out until the liquid hits the boiling point, so don’t be alarmed if it looks thin until then (this still makes me nervous every time).

Add the cheese in two batches, whisking to combine. Add the spices along with salt to taste.

Drain the pasta. Toss well with the cheese sauce and pour into a casserole dish. Top with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are bubbly. Turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top. Let rest for 10 minutes before eating.

0 thoughts on “In which people get the animal fats they want and deserve.

  1. That last picture is gorgeous. What a way to cleanse yourself of the tofu experience. I’d never heard of quorn till I went to England and tried some there…if you want the taste of meat so much that you have to mould paste into a sausage shape…why not just eat meat? (I realise I’m preaching to the converted here, but still, it puzzles me) Yay for the three cheeses :)

  2. omg!!! that looks absolutely fabulous!! the only possible variation i can think of is instead of bread crumbs, use ritz crackers (or some other buttery based cracker) and asiago for a topping. if only bran weren’t diabetic and not able to eat that much pasta…then again, he could eat a little bit and boy and i could gork out. that has definite possibilities.

  3. That is my idea of a mac n cheese. I have tried it with 4 to 5 different cheeses, but it is too much. Thanks for the tip on letting it sit for a few minutes, as I would want to dive in right away.

  4. It’s always wonderful when people like you try culinary experiences so I don’t have to (like the 2 recent things with tofu), but this is Food.

  5. I was wondering if you were ever going to divulge this recipe after reading the tofumac post… and I’m glad you did. Looks awesome! I like using sottocenere (truffled cow’s milk cheese) when I’m feeling lily-gildish, but this looks like a classic. Beautiful shots, too. Tempted to make it even though it’s 140F outside in NC at the moment (at 8:30 in the friggin morning).

  6. Michelle – I’m new to your blog and loving it! This M&C is outrageous…it almost matches your writing which is really refreshing and funny. I’m looking forward to diving into some archives now…

  7. Mac & Cheese the way it’s meant to be. I was worried about you after the whole tofu incident. Glad to see that you’ve recovered your dairy senses.

  8. susan, gracias!

    laura, it’s scary, isn’t it? quorn is some kind of creepy mushroom derivitive. who comes up with that shit?

    naomi, mixing cheese with the crumbs is a definite plus. for me, ritz is too much (i know, ha), because there’s so much fat in the mac itself that a buttery cracker is utterly unnecessary.

    anna, thank you, thank you.

    kim, yeah, my oft-burned tongue is very strict about letting it sit.

    fuzzy, testify.

    mike, there’s so little to divulge, it’s so classic! but i had to share. it was too hot here for this to really be acceptable, but i just had to.

    elizabeth, welcome, and i’m glad you’re enjoying it here!

    erin, indeed. i was never really gone, i was just trying to scare y’all.

    marc, egg in the meatloaf! i thought my mom was the only one who did that!

  9. claudia, you could always make some raw cashew cream, toss it with some vegetables, get really drunk and pretend you’re eating mac and cheese. snort.

    laurie, anytime!

    brittany, then my work here is complete.

    mrs. l, you must, you really must.

    canarygirl, it’s a great way to start the day!

  10. Hey what a coinky dink–I’m going to post mac and cheese on Friday for a classic American recipe…I think you’ll be disgusted by the cheese I use, but hey, it’s what mom uses, so that’s what the Italians are getting!

    I’ve also used sliced tomatoes and a sprinkling of mozzarella on top before going into the oven :)

  11. amen, and amen. i’d gladly sacrifice the health of my arteries for even a bite of that gorgeous plate o’ flavor. it’s the most comforting comfort food i’ve seen in a long time. tofu what?


    Since I have to deal with Sir Pickypants and the Tum Tum, I rarely ever make macaroni and cheese, however, last winter I came down with the mother of all colds and I HAD TO HAVE SOME! I dragged my weary ass out of bed for the first time in two days just so I could get to the store to buy ingredients. There is nothing like homemade mac and cheese and nothing in the blue box compares. I ate that entire pan myself! I think it cured my cold.

    Lots and lots of full-fat dairy products = good
    Adding bacon bits to the bread crumb topping = even better

    (Had I had sorpresata with me, I’m sure I would have recovered that much faster)

  13. Your titles always suck me in, the casual smack down writing style keeps me reading.

    I love old fashioned mac and cheese. I made it for my husband about two years after we were first married, and he tried it and then gave me this wounded look. I asked if it was bad and he said, ‘no, but how could you have possibly kept this from me for so long?’

    soo oozy and good.

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  15. BE, you can’t mean the “V” word? the horror! don’t do that to the italians, not when we have so much delicious cheese!

    grace, i would send you some, but i’ve already eaten it all. your arteries can thank me.

    heather, i’m with you on that one, although i might downgrade to 8/10.

    rachel, sir pickypants and the tum tum would be a great name for (1) a cartoon duo or (2) a 70s-era captain and tenille-type act.

    erin, i know this is awful, but i was skimming the comments and saw “your titties always suck me in.” and i was all, whoa, we just met.

    carolyn, only a triple? wishful thinking.

    pam, and all the land rejoiced.

    canary, i saw! it looks better than this one. everyone, go look at canarygirl’s!

  16. You’re site is rediculous funny. I love how your threw all caution to the wind on this one. You could have some deep fried coke as dessert and wipe your face with margarine napkins afterwards, and call it a complete day :)

    Anyways your pics are gorgeous, and while I feel bloated after looking at them… I guess they did their job.

    I’ve never had berry flavored Leinenkugel, I only had the orange type one when I visited Virginia. Reminded me of Blue Moon. The berry any good?

  17. This is how mac and cheese should be – great job! If you ask me (I know you didn’t) it should always start with bechamel. I just don’t understand how people can even make this without butter, full fat milk, and a shit load of cheese.

    Lets be honest here too – natural fats (butter, milk, cheese, lard etc) are far better for you than processed crap that has been squeezed out of a vegetable.

    Awesome, awesome job with the mac. This certainly is no place for tofu.

  18. Criminy. My EYES have gone into full cardiac arrest. God, I love butter, cheese, cream – all together in some mess of magnificence. Why the hell did we stop killing the big beasts and start – farming?

  19. Mmmm… Mac N’ Cheese with a Leinies to boot. That totally makes me reminisce about college days back in WI, or just growing up there. I think my fridge was rarely without a Leinies or enough cheese to float a boat. I really with they had a Leinies O down here in Hotlanta, I could use one right now.

  20. Suck it tofu. Says it all.

    I went to college in the Upper MW too and drank Leinies and ate cheese curds and went to Octoberfest. Maybe I saw you there – or, was passed out next to you.

  21. Just needs bacon. Really. Are you doubting me on that? Come on, pork fat rules! It helps soak up the humidity and is good for your complexion :)

  22. Hi. I just stumbled on your blog recently and it looks great!

    However, I did take a *slight* bit of offense to your “tofu is frankenfood” comment. As someone who is Chinese, tofu is an inseparable part of my diet. When I was younger, my mother would make a tofu dish nearly every day! There are just so many delicious ways to eat it: fried, stir-fried, boiled, with spicy sauce, cold, in hot pot etc. I’m always kind of sad when I hear people talking about how tofu is an unnatural food. IT’S NOT A MEAT SUBSTITUTE! It’s its own special, amazing delicious form of protein and should be treated as such.

  23. adam, i didn’t even know there was an orange one! the berry is yummy if you don’t mind beer that really, really tastes like juice. it’s even kinda pink.

    matt, i’m with you. i can’t wrap my brain around mac and cheese sans-bechamel (or any of the other things you mentioned).

    cake, ok, now i’m craving creme brulee.

    catherine, because we need the wheat for the pasta and flour.

    zilla, leinie’s made it to jersey, so maybe it’ll make it to you as well one day. finger crossed!

    ann, is it me, or is i-94 just a giant corridor of cheese and porn shops?

    kristen, it is. it’s studious, and quite punctual.

    MB, never let it be said that i am not a lover of pork fat. but sometimes, just sometimes, i want no impediments between me and my cheese.

    tofu-fan, welcome! i’m sorry your first visit here was in the midst of intense tofu-bashing. i think we’re venting our spleen more on the recipes than on the actual tofu (at least, i am). i do have to ask, though: boiled tofu?

  24. It’s a macaroni pie!! I love these so much. Now that I have the recipe, I will definitely be making these a few times a week, maybe every night =)

  25. Delicious homemade mac n cheese. You’ll never eat out of the box again. I’ve wanted to try some cheeses outside of the normal extra sharp cheddar I make it with and you’ve given me great insight.

    I agree with tofu fan though, tofu is no more of a frankenfood than cheese or yogurt is. Let’s reserve the frankenfood label for things like margarine and corn syrup, lest people get confused.

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