|All the Favorite Things! Macaroni and Cheeseburger - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
So, well done, you haven't been totally offended by this sacri-licious intro, describing what can only be considered a Comfort Food Religious Experience. We're finally out of the heat of summer, a safe enough distance from bathing suit season, and we can indulge in the rich, delectable dishes that are designed for the chilly nights ahead. It's easy enough to throw some favorite things into a pot and make a delicious stew or soup, but there's nothing quite as comfort food-perfect as an ooey-gooey skillet of macaroni and cheese. It's a real treat when I make it, since it's such an indulgent dish, so I want to make it count when it finds its way on our dinner table. So how does one make macaroni and cheese truly extraordinary?
|Sullivan's Steakhouse in downtown Seattle - putting a Northwest stamp on their menu - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
|Butcher Shop Burger - so tasty, it's downright inspirational - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
I wanted to replicate this combination of flavors at home. I knew I'd never be able to remake the cheeseburger exactly -- and really, why should I, when I can just have the original when the craving strikes? But comfort foods being foremost in my mind, I wanted a meal that would hit every craving, inspired by the Butcher Shop Burger. I decided to make the hybrid macaroni and cheese-burger, as well as some simple tomato soup, infused with fresh basil, since my plant was on its last legs for the season. The acidic tomato soup would nicely balance out the creamy mac and cheese, and pay homage to that other favorite combination -- grilled cheese and tomato soup.
|Soup is good food, and it makes your tummy happy - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
The main event was the mac n' cheeseburger. Even the Mister was excited when I was making it -- and he never gets excited when I make bready-pasta dishes -- but when he smelled the onions getting caramelized and the ground beef getting all crispy-seared in the pan, his interest in dinner was piqued. If you're like me who hates washing dishes, you can pretty much do almost everything in a single pan, but you'll need bowls to contain cooked ingredients in a holding pattern, since everything requires its own separate cooking time. For this dish, I used jarlsberg cheese instead of gruyere -- similar nutty flavor profile, the jarlsberg melts very nicely and at the time, was easier to get from our regular grocery store. Everything comes together after you've made the cheese sauce, fold in all the separate ingredients into the pan, a finishing sprinkle of breadcrumbs, extra cheese, and into the oven for a final bake-off and browning the crust. When it's finally served, it tastes like you're eating a wonderful combination of gooey macaroni and cheese, with the flavor of a burger. I was calling it Fancy Hamburger Helper, but it was far more extraordinary than anything that could have come out of a box. No freaky hand-shaped spokesperson required.
|Skillet dinner greatness that didn't come out of a box - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
1/2 pound ground beef (80/20 meat to fat ratio preferred, not extra-lean)
3 cups shredded jarlsberg cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thin
4 cups of whole milk
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sherry or Marsala wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 a stick of butter and 2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 pound of uncooked pasta - small shells or elbow shape
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs (for topping)
1/4 cup of jarlsberg (for topping)
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare pasta first -- boil salted water, cook pasta until slightly undercooked or al dente, drain and set aside.
To caramelize the onions, take a large, high-sided pan, heat to medium and melt two tablespoons of butter, swirling until surface is coated. Add the thinly sliced onions and stir constantly until the onions are softened, the water is cooked out and starts to caramelize. You can do this while the pasta is cooking, the caramelized onions will take about 20-25 minutes to fully brown and develop the yummy sugars. You want to do this slowly, not with high heat, otherwise the butter and onions will burn.
Remove the caramelized onions from the pan, set aside in a bowl, and add the ground beef to the same pan, heated to medium-high. Break up the beef and cook until it's fully browned. Add a pinch of salt and pepper as you're cooking. When the beef is fully cooked with a nice browned, slight crispness, remove from the pan and set aside. The beef can sit in the same bowl with the onions, everything will be mixed together eventually.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
To make the cheese sauce, add the half stick of butter to the pan and let it melt on a medium setting. Sprinkle in the flour and use a whisk to incorporate the flour and butter to begin the roux. Toast the mixture lightly, just until the flour has fully absorbed the butter and is still light-colored and crumbly. Start slowly adding in the milk, whisking as you go, to break down the clumps and let the roux incorporate with the milk. Keep whisking until all the clumps are broken down, the sauce will have a texture of a loose gravy. Add the sherry or Marsala, and the Dijon mustard. Sprinkle in both cheeses, one handful at a time, continuing to whisk the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. The finished sauce should have the consistency of a thick cream sauce, but not too stiff -- add more milk to loosen. Fold in the cooked beef, caramelized onions and pasta. Mix until everything is coated and turn off the burner.
Sprinkle the top evenly with extra jarlsberg and breadcrumbs before placing in the preheated oven. Bake until the top starts to brown and the sauce is bubbly, about 10-15 minutes. If you want a crispier crust, turn on the broiler for just a minute or two. Remove pan from oven, let it rest for a few minutes before serving.