Friday, January 11, 2013

"Food for the Soul - A Texas Expatriate Nurtures Her Culinary Roots in Paris" - Macaroni and Cheese Bake

Date I made this recipe:  January 6, 2013

Food for the Soul – A Texas Expatriate Nurtures Her Culinary Roots in Paris by Monique Y. Wells
Published by:  Elton-Wolf Publishing
ISBN:  1-58783-000-0
Recipe:  Macaroni and Cheese Bake – p. 75

I always have my reasons for selecting the cookbooks that I do and today’s might seem lame to you but was important to me:  I wanted a recipe to celebrate my Packers victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the playoff game.  That’s it.  Please understand that I am a) a major Packers’ fan and b) I am now an owner of that team having purchased a share of stock in the organization last year.  Scoff all you want, but the Packers are the only team in the NFL that allow community ownership and for that I am most grateful.  Sure, wearing your team’s colors is fine, going to the games is fine, but to say you own the joint?  Priceless!

Now I knew darned well that this cookbook had just what I needed – macaroni and (oh yes), [Wisconsin] cheese, because that is the recipe that I kept going back to every time I opened this book.  All other recipes sounded good but there is nothing like mac and cheese to cheer on the Green and Gold (despite the fact that I made it the day after the game as a victory dinner). 

Football aside, (GO PACK GO), this is one of my favorite cookbooks because it is just so beautiful.  The artwork is phenomenal, the photos are fabulous - it all works. (Illustrations are by Christiann Anderson; Photographs by Daniel Czap.) And then there’s the story…

Monique Y. Wells is an African-American woman from Texas who moved to France in 1992 and lived to tell the adventures of trying to source ingredients and to cook southern and soul food in Paris.  Right, good luck with that.  Still, she made it work and all of her recipes sounded yummy but I could only choose one so I went with my idea of food for the soul – macaroni and cheese.

This recipe was good and it was simple, two things I always appreciate, but I have to say that if you are looking for an ooey-gooey stack of macaroni coated with cheese, this is not your dish.  This dish is more sublime.  Perhaps it is for fancy Parisians?  And while the French might scoff at the Ritz Crackers on top, oh baby, I loved that added buttery flavor.

You should know that although I cannot remember how it is that I heard about this book, it was one of my “Holy Grails” for a long time and I was happy as hell to finally find it.  It sits in a place of honor on the shelf above my computer and every so often I take it down and just look at it (because again, it is such a beautiful book).  My only complaint, and it is minor, is that I wanted more prose.  Monique’s life in Paris sounds so fascinating and yet the only sense I got of her was from the dust jacket blurb.  I want more!

And I definitely want more mac and cheese; I shoulda and coulda doubled the recipe.  Next time….

Macaroni and Cheese Bake – makes 8-10 servings
12 oz elbow macaroni, prepared according to package directions
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter or margarine
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 cups milk
¼ cup chopped onion
1 lb. sharp cheese (cubed) (Of COURSE I used Wisconsin – GB Packers - Cheddar!)
3 ½ ounce Ritz crackers, crumbled (one sleeve)
Paprika (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare the macaroni according to package directions.  Drain and put back in the pan.  In another saucepan, melt the butter.  Slowly add flour, stirring constantly to blend.  (Don’t hurry this step or you’ll end up with globs of flour instead of a suspension of flour in butter.)  Add salt and pepper; stir.  Add milk and continue stirring until the mixture becomes thick and bubbly.  Add the onion and the cheese to the pot and continue to stir.  Mix the cheese sauce into the macaroni, then pour the entire mixture into the baking dish.  Cover with cracker crumbs and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

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