Dan and I are not really ones for New Years Resolutions. We do the same things most of you do – we strive to be a little healthier, spend a bit less money (ahem…) and try to generally get our lives in order – but in terms of setting hard and fast rules about what we are going to achieve that year, it isn’t really ‘our way’. Dan is already an accomplished goal setter and helps to kick me up the butt when it comes to getting shiz done (which simultaneously delights me and makes me feel like an incompetent child by comparison – I just don’t have the life skillz!) and we always like to make sure we set plans in place throughout the year so that we always have things to look forward to, but one thing we agreed we’d like to do more of this year is cooking together. We also now own a rather large collective of cookbooks which do not a lot but sit prettily on a shelf in our kitchen (apart from my Hummingbird Bakery book, which proudly sits open at the German Chocolate Cake page on a book stand that my sister bought me, so that anyone who enters my kitchen thinks I might just be part way through baking one at any point in time… spoiler: I am not…) so we decided it was high time we started making use of them!
Once a month now we’ve agreed to cook a dinner using our impressive array of books, and decided to start with Anna Mae’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese, because, well, mac ‘n’ cheese….. My sister, well versed in both mine and Dan’s love of the dish – which in our opinion is the ultimate comfort food – bought me Anna Mae’s book for Christmas one year after sampling some of their delicious delights at Glastonbury. I have absolutely no idea why it’s taken me so long to give one a try! We had a hard time deciding which of the many deliciously gooey recipes to go with, but in the end settled on the Macgic Mushroom since it has a healthy dose of veggies and made us feel slightly less bad about the huge volume of carbs and cheese we were about to consume…..
We went shopping for the ingredients late at night in Aldi so had to make some substitutions, which I’ll highlight along the way, but the majority of the ingredients were very easy to get hold of, and often things you’d already have in your fridge, which straight away made the book a favourite – isn’t it frustrating when you find an amazing sounding recipe but need a load of obscure sounding ingredients to make it?? Anyway, without further ado, here’s how we got on….
600ml whole milk
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
a pinch of salt
150g mild cheddar, grated
120g taleggio, rind removed and cubed (proved more difficult to find than I would have thought, though it was Aldi, so we went with brie instead)
400g macaroni (early fail – couldn’t get actual macaroni so we subbed with penne! Reminder to self to get a store cupboard stock next time I see some!)
30g parmesan, finely grated
A drizzle of truffle oil (we aren’t posh enough to have this already and Aldi failed us so we went without – lesson learned: be posher)
A handful of chopped fresh sage (Aldi failed us again, but it was 9pm to be fair… we subbed with a little extra thyme)
A large knob of butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
250g field mushrooms, chopped
250ml dry white wine
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Handful of fresh spinach (this is not in the original recipe, but again, it was to help us combat the carb and dairy guilt!)
2 x spiced rum and Coke with lots of lime, optional (we like to have a drink while we cook!)
Mac ‘n’ cheese isn’t a notoriously complex dish to cook, but it can be a little fiddly juggling all of the elements if you’re on your own – no-one wants to take their eye off the ball and end up with a lumpy sauce – so I was happy to have my partner in crime helping me out with this one! Firstly preheat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7. Dan then got a pan of salted water and the boil and set about cooking the pasta while I focused on the mushroom ragout. Don’t forget that you want the pasta to still have a nice bite and leave it to drain completely when done – soggy pasta will dilute the sauce! The ragout was nice and simple and smelled delish while I was cooking it! As directed, I melted the butter over a medium heat and sauteed the shallots, garlic and thyme. Next came the mushrooms, followed by the wine. Lastly I seasoned it with the salt and pepper and left it to do it’s thang and reduce down (their recommendation is to simmer until the liquid has thickened but not disappeared) before throwing in the spinach to wilt at the last minute.
Meanwhile, Dan had been focusing on the sauce. All of their recipes begin with a starter sauce which is basically a classic roux, which is then pimped up with ALL THE CHEESE! For those who haven’t made roux before, Dan warmed the milk in one pan (careful not to let it boil) and in the other he melted the butter, then on a low heat gradually stirred in the flour until it had made a smooth paste. Next, he added the hot milk a little at a time, constantly stirring so as not to stick. It should take around 5 – 8 minutes, and you’re aiming for a nice thick consistency. Finally, season, add the cheddar and taleggio (or brie in our case!) and stir in the pasta.
Then came the fun part – pour half of the mac ‘n’ cheese into an ovenproof dish, add your mushroom ragout on top, then top with the rest of the pasta. Sprinkle generously with the parmesan and then grill for 10 minutes until deliciously oozy and crispy! Here is where you would add your truffle oil and sage leaves if you had them, but we had to make do with a few extra thyme leaves!
Our verdict? OMG THE BEST THING I’VE EVER TASTED!! The soft cheese made the creamiest sauce, and the sharp tang of the wine in the mushrooms cut through perfectly. It was utter heaven, and I can only imagine how much more delicious it would have been with the truffle oil and sage, so we will definitely be having another crack with the full ingredients list! Don’t just take my word for it though – give it a try, I urge you! Of course, I could never make anything near as good as the real deal, so if you’re a mac ‘n cheese lover, you can follow them on Twitter and Instagram to see if you can find up where they’re popping up next!