Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mac n' Cheese Marathon

The class was psyched for today's lesson -- everyone loves mac n' cheese, and we were going to make three versions. The point was to get them thinking about sauces. It's one thing to lecture about mother sauces (which I did, which did not elicit much interest), it's another thing to make a sauce and apply it in real life.

Mac n' cheese is not just macaroni slathered in cheese -- if we did that, and baked it, you'd get a dry, burnt, excessively lumpy mass that would congeal and room temperature to something guaranteed to back you up (at the least.) That thing that makes a mac n' cheese something more is the sauce: Bechamel, a mother sauce which is white sauce made by thickening milk with a white roux. A roux is the classic thickening agent that is made by cooking equal parts fat and flour (in this case, butter and AP.) Once we have our bechamel, we add out cheeses and seasonings (see the recipe here), then into a pan with very stiffly cooked macaroni to bake and come together.

Traditionally, the seasoning is salt, pepper and mustard powdered, and that's what we did with one version. Another version we added crumbled bacon and extra mustard powder, and a third replaced the mustard with jerk seasoning and a bunch of softened diced onion.

This is not light food, so I thought rather than make another heavy sauce dish, make a protein and a veg to make a balanced plate of food. I got one student to just go for it, sauteing a bag of adult spinach leaves. Super simple: heat saute pan, add a little olive oil, drop in dry leaves, move around until wilted, then add more until it's all in pan. Salt while cooking to taste. Stop and remove from heat when all is wilted.

The protein was "shake n' bake" chicken. Simply, take chicken breasts cut to size and dredge in a flour and spice mix, then bake.


Yield: 8 servings
Flour 1 cup
Corn meal ½ cup
Old bay seasoning 2 tsp
Paprika 2 tsp
Black pepper 1 tsp
Salt 2 tsp
Chicken breasts 8 each
1. Grease baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350
2. Combine all ingredients except breasts in a bowl
3. Toss breasts in mixture then place on greased sheet.
4. Bake for 25-30 minutes or when meat thermometer reads 155˚.
5. Rest meat for 10-15 minutes covered in foil, then serve.

Old Bay Seasoning is basically celery salt and paprika, and the final result was surprising like the commercial shake n' bake mix, only without the extra chemicals or anti-caking agents.

The kids were not impressed with the chicken -- they liked the seasoning, but it was too "dry" for them (though due to the instant read thermometer, the bigger pieces did come out juicy, the smaller pieces were a bit tough.)

However, there was universal acclaim for the spinach. None seemed to ever have a simple spinach like this, done fresh -- usually, if at all, they've had it from frozen. I think a few kids said they're going to make that at home, which really made me feel like today's class wasn't JUST a fat n' carb festival.

We also made a vat of chicken stock, which will factor in to the next lesson: grains, including rice, farro and buckwheat...