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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Truffle Mac N' Cheese

So, this story begins several years ago, at a local gastropub by the name of The Crest, that we frequent from time to time, particularly in the summertime.

It's a great place, with a relaxed and warm, woodsy atmosphere, where the drinks are painstakingly hand-made, and the food is actually really, really good.  The only thing preventing this place from making it big, at least in my opinion, is its abysmal hours of operation.  Even though they say on their website that they are open 5p.m. til close every night... they're not.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say they are closed MORE often than not.

Which is sad.

And... I'm not a restaurateur but I have to believe that that is a bad business model.  Also, apparently I've been spelling restaurateur incorrectly.  Not supposed to have an 'n'.  Weird, right?  :)

ANYWAY... that was quite the digression... but like I said, this story begins with The Crest, and one of their best (really, their best) dishes, their Truffle Mac.

Now, I'm not going to say my version even comes close to theirs.  It doesn't, and I'm OK with that.  In part, because I'm pretty sure they use some full-fat cream and butter and cheese in their sauce.  Also, they use some pretty white pasta noodles.  All of this makes it less healthy than I would make for myself at home, but sure as f*@$ makes it delicious!

Anyway, unlike many other times, I wasn't going for emulation, just using it as inspiration.

So, the other day my wife's previously indomitable Christmas Spirit was faltering dangerously.  It almost waned entirely there the other night.  And I can't abide that... this household requires at least one person to be exuberant about the Holidays.

So, I made one of her favourite dishes, and slapped the word "Christmas" on to it for her benefit, and was allowed to do so by the simple (and uncommon for me) addition of green (fresh thyme leaves) and red (fresh tomatoes) bits to the mac n' cheese.

Fortunately for me, it worked, and this 'Christmas Truffle Mac N' Cheese' (I believe, anyway) began the turnaround on her festive demeanour.


So, that's where the concept begins, but this dish truly begins with some pasta, and a casserole dish.


Incidentally, yes, it was planned to have spinach and tomato noodles.  Remember, I'm trying desperately to make this seem like it has anything to do with Christmas.  :D

The true STAR of this dish, however, is the mutha'ucka Black Truffle.


That mutha'ucka can uck with my shi any day.

(BTW- if you don't get this reference, you're woefully uncultured).  

But... just because it's too hilarious... I'll help you out: Too Many Mutha'uckas. Edify yourself for mutha'uckin sake.

Anyway, the prep for this dish got broken down into two categories: the sauce fixin's and the topping fixin's.

The sauce, in order of concentration (other than the dairy), is onion (one whole white onion), garlic (~6 cloves), tomatoes (about 10 grape tomatoes, chopped), scallions (one, diced), habanero chili pepper (one, minced), fresh thyme (the leaves from about a dozen sprigs), truffle (about 2 large slices, minced), dry mustard (about 2 tbsps), smoked paprika (about 2 tsps), and some smoked sea salt.

I think that was everything...  :)

The 'topping' is much of the same stuff, but in smaller quantities... thyme, scallion, mustard, paprika, salt, and a pinch of the truffle oil... and then mixed with copious amounts of breadcrumbs.  

Breadcrumbs were added after this photo  ---^

So, I like to get all that prep ready to go beforehand, it really does make it easier.

So, for the sauce.

First, I sauteed my onion for a good 5 or 10 minutes, in a small amount of butter and truffle oil.

Then, I added my coarsely chopped garlic, and kept cooking for another minute or two.

After than I carefully scraped ALL of that out into my blender, and pureed the whole thing.

I'm a firm believer in texture.  This sauce is going to be VELVETY smooth, so why ruin that with chunkiness?

That sits aside for a minute, because I wanted to make a roux.

So, some butter in the pan.

And then some flour.

And then cook that for a good 3 or 4 minutes.  Right up until it turns golden (but not brown).

Then we just start dumping stuff in!

This is the fun part!  :)

Just keep whisking and nothing should go wrong.

To this roux, I added that onion and garlic puree, and about 2 cups of organic 2% milk—if you're looking to impress people or entertain guests, really you should use something like 18% table cream... or, conversely, for a healthier option and what I do most often, is use almond milk.

At this point, this is a delightful, super sexy-smooth, 'white sauce' and can branch out to a number of really awesome sauces.  But we're going for a cheese sauce.  So... bring in the cheese!

Don't skimp on the cheese, either.  It really makes the dish.  I recommend getting a nice high quality aged cheddar, but anything with a high milk fat % (and therefore melt/incorporation capacity) would work.

Myself, I chose a 4-year old white Perron Cheddar as the primary cheese.

But I did add some highlights in the form of a touch of stilton and some sharp orange cheddar for colour.

Lastly, I added that bowl of prep stuff, the spices, and then the tomatoes and pepper.

Keep whisking all of this stuff in, while keeping it on low to medium-low heat.

And that's a delightful truffle and thyme cheddar sauce.

But we're not done.

That casserole dish has some lonely noodles in it, after all.

Carefully mix the noodles with the sauce.

More carefully than I did.  I really should have used a bigger casserole dish.  More on that later...

Mmmmm... I could eat that just as-is.

See, and it looks a little Christmas-y, right?


But, we're going to top it with the breadcrumb mixture and then bake it!

I baked this at 350° for about 40 minutes.

Because I had filled it so full, it spilled over a fair bit.  But I managed to get a baking sheet underneath relatively quickly... So the damage was mitigated slightly.

After that, I pulled it out, and it looked great, but the top wasn't nice and golden brown the way I had hoped.

So I did something I do countless times, I put it under the broiler for what was supposed to have only been a few minutes.

But... as happens sometimes, Life got in the way, and I had something I had to deal with which unfortunately distracted me for closer to about five minutes.

I was so mad.

Fortunately I was able to scrape off much of the burnt breadcrumbs.
Unfortunately, that included a lot of flavour morsels (fresh thyme, sea salt, paprika, etc.)

The wife still loved it.  And honestly, I think it turned out OK.  The topping WAS really crunchy, but it didn't TASTE burnt.  So, it was all good.



It was really delicious, and we each had second-helpings, despite it being very filling.  :)


So, if you've never added truffle to your mac n' cheese, do it!  DO IT NOW!!!