One of the great things about writing a food blog is that you have a handy, online, personal cookbook: it travels with you wherever you go; it’s searchable by ingredient, recipe type, season; your personal recipe notes are preserved so that you don’t make the same mistakes twice. It’s brilliant really, except…. during a power outage.
In the classic human condition of wanting-what-we-can’t-have, I often find myself, when the power is out, craving baked things: chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked bread, buttermilk biscuits with bubbly, creamy, hot mac and cheese. Since our oven will not work during a power outage, but the gas stovetop will, I can get a bit fixated on re-creating these recipes on the stove: bread in a Dutch oven, say, or skillet chocolate chip cookies. As much as I miss my personal recipe collection at these times, I also miss Mr. Google: do you know that I don’t have a single recipe for basic chocolate chip cookies in my (rather huge) cookbook library? How can that be? (Is it that everyone just uses the Tollhouse recipe on the back of the bag?)
At the same time, as much as I may want skillet chocolate chip cookies, I have perishables in the fridge that need using up: like a few blocks of cheese and a quart of goat’s milk. Milk goes bad pretty quickly at room temperature: hence the need to invent cheese. Cooking milk, to make cheese or a bechamel sauce, extends the life of the milk for several days, and combining it with pasta and cheese makes a filling, easily re-heatable meal for days to come. Other than cheese itself, mac and cheese is one of my go-to recipes for using up milk that isn’t going to last: a power outage, a weekend away, or simply a busy, work-filled week. But typically, mac and cheese is baked: the caramelized cheese, the hot, bubbly sauce, the slightly crisp top layer; it’s part of the joy of the recipe. How to reproduce that when you don’t have a working oven?
As it turns out, you don’t really need that crispy, caramelized cheese-on-top to enjoy a great mac and cheese (although I keep trying to convince the Hubs that this is the perfect reason to get a kitchen blowtorch): between the whole wheat breadcrumbs, melty sharp cheddar cheese and smoky chipotle powder, this mac and cheese was packed full of flavor, texture, and delicious goodness. We couldn’t stop eating it actually: with sliced Mutsu apples for breakfast, with a side of black bean soup for lunch, with a snow-cooled pumpkin ale for dinner (in fact, we ate it so quickly that I only a snapped a bare few photographs, as you can see. Ooops). Mac and cheese: even during a power outage, good for what ails you.
Bechamel instructions taken from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louise Bertholle, and Simone Beck
Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- 8 oz pasta (I use whole wheat)
- 3 and 1/2 cups milk
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 oz hard grating cheese, such as parmesan or Sprout Creek Ouray
- 1/2 tsp ground chipotle powder (smoked paprika is a nice subsitute)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large stockpot about half full of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta at a rolling boil until just barely al dente, about 6 – 7 minutes for whole wheat pasta. Drain pasta and set aside. As our water well is driven by an electric pump, water is at a premium during a power outage: I reserved the hot pasta water for soaking dirty dishes in the sink.
- In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat.
- Make the bechamel. In a large, well-seasoned or non-stick skillet or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour, whisking constantly, and cook until the roux is smooth and bubbling thickly, about 2 – 3 minutes. Bring the milk in the saucepan just to the boil, remove roux from the heat, and once the roux stops bubbling, whisk the boiling milk in, stirring constantly until the bechamel is smooth. Return to medium-low heat, and stirring, reduce the bechamel until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Assemble mac and cheese. Add about 2/3 of the grated cheeses to the bechamel and stir until cheese is melted and blended into the sauce. Add chipotle, salt and black pepper: taste and adjust seasonings. Add pasta and stir to coat. Sprinkle remaining cheeses across the top of the pasta; top with breadcrumbs and a sprinkle of chipotle powder.
- Reduce heat to low (use the stacked-burner trick if you are concerned about sticking), cover pan (I used a pizza peel to cover my 12-inch cast iron skillet) and cook until cheese sauce is bubbling thickly and cheese on top has fully melted, about 40 minutes. Remove lid or partially cover for the last 10 minutes of cooking time. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 6 – 10.
- Feel free to toss in a handful of vegetables or two: anything that is not too watery. I had about 1/2 cup of chopped dark green scallion that I added in at the last minute: it didn’t really add a lot to the basic recipe, but I didn’t have to throw them on the compost pile.
- Although it uses another pan, be sure to warm them milk before attempting to add to the roux, otherwise your roux will surely curdle: if it does, you can force it through a fine sieve, or (if you have power) process in a blender or food processor to attempt to smooth out the sauce.
- This is a quite basic mac and cheese recipe and can certainly be made in an oven. Bake in a casserole dish or large skillet, uncovered, for about 45 – 60 minutes, until the top has browned and the cheese sauce is bubbling thickly throughout the dish.
Will keep at cool room temperature for a day or two: lasted in our ~45 – 50 degree fridge (cooled with a big bowl of snow!) for 3 days. In a working fridge, keeps for up to 1 week.
Fall through winter, or anytime there is a power outage!