Monday, December 20, 2010

UnRecipe: Great Truffle Butter Expectations

As always, the holidays yield rich, complicated dishes that remind us why we only make them for rare occasions. There's a reason the Whos in Whoville only had Roast Beast once a year -- can you imagine the cleanup? Oy. But for all the fancy-schmancy-ness of big celebratory dinners, sometimes the simplest comforts are what we appreciate the most. So to make something as basic as macaroni and cheese more holiday-festive, the Prime did it up right with a truffle butter challenge, pitting mac n' cheese from scratch versus The Blue Box.

Mac vs Mac - the rumble in the truffle butter jungle - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Don't look all innocent like you don't know what the Blue Box is. We all lived off the stuff in college, much like Top Ramen, due to its pocketbook-friendly abilities to be purchased in bulk and still have enough money leftover for beer. A narrow, tall box filled with elbow macaroni, a large sachel of alarmingly orange powder that somehow magically transforms into a cheese sauce -- sure, there's enough chemicals in there to preserve us like the pharoahs of old, but hey, it tastes good. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it's the macaroni and cheese made from scratch. Big shells of pasta, the perfect shape to coat itself thoroughly with the slowly-simmered bechamel sauce thickened with shavings of different cheeses. I know, I know -- how could I even think to compare the two?? Homemade with boxed/processed dregs?? Well, the great equalizer came forth in the form of... Truffle Butter. (Insert dramatic music here)

Truffle buttah makes it bettah - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Not like I buy this stuff regularly, as I'd likely horde it away, saving it for a "something special" dish that will never come. This jar was a bit of a windfall. I was browsing Williams and Sonoma with none other than Ms. Radish and Rose, when we spied a jar in their clearance bin. How ghetto fabulous is that -- truffle butter in the clearance rack? Jigga-yeah. We checked off the "yuppie cliche" box and Ms Radish was kind enough to buy the bottle and gift it to me in the hopes of inspiring a recipe. My mind immediately went to macaroni and cheese, and more specifically, to test the fabled powers of truffle butter -- could it make even boxed mac n' cheese into something truly special? To the Batcave!!!

I hadn't partaken of The Blue Box in ages, so it was a little naughty thrill getting one at the grocery store. Yep, still same packaging and the same waft of bright orange faux-cheese as you tear open the packet of powdered sauce. Call CDC, the contagion is airborne. I wanted to give the Blue Box a fighting chance against the Homeskillet advantage of a mac n' cheese from scratch. I crisped up some prosciutto and tossed that with the final dish. When making the sauce, I used the truffle butter, plus half and half, making it extra rich. I wanted it to have a crust, so it went from the saucepot to a small casserole dish, where it was topped with breadcrumbs to finish in the oven.

The from-scratch macaroni and cheese was done in the classic way, making a basic bechamel sauce, with shreds of  cheese - I used a mix of Asiago and Fontina. Truffle butter was used, and then the final dish was baked off with the same crumble of breadcrumbs. This one was without the prosciutto; I figure give the Blue Box as much of an edge as possible.

The Cheesiest? You betcha. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I had Ms Radish in attendance to be a taste tester of the two mac n' cheeses. Is there really any doubt which tasted better? Of course not. But I think because we have such a strong taste memory of many Blue Box meals, as nutritionally enigmatic as it is, there's always a little bit of comfortable familiarity in its taste. And definitely saltier -- Valley of the Kings, here we come. The truffle butter gave an overall earthy roundness to both dishes. If I dress up another Blue Box mac and cheese again, I will make extra sauce, as it really dries out fast.  But both dishes were enjoyable in their own ways, neither felt overly better than the other, likely because of our shrink-wrapped, overly-processed childhood food memories. But does truffle butter make things better? Hell yes.

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  1. LOVE your writing, lady :) Can I be invited to the next mac 'n' cheese-off?

  2. Denise.. You've done it again! I could eat anything tossed with truffle butter. Yes, it does makes things better... Including your outlook on life!


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