Compared to other books, a cookbook has a pretty complicated job. Novels focus on providing entertaining stories and academic works (for better or worse) focus on being informative above all else. Cookbooks have to do a mix of both. Without the correct tone and pictures, a cookbook is likely to be passed over no matter the quality of its recipes. My mom has based a lifetime of cookbook buying on this particular rule: if it doesn’t entertain, it’s not going in the kitchen. People buy cookbooks for a lot of reasons. To clean up their eating habits, to learn new recipes from a faraway culture, to add a little excitement to the humdrum normality of the commute-work-commute home-sleep life. No matter which of these purposes a cookbook serves, it’s imperative that it also entertains.
For celebrity chefs in particular, this entertainment value comes from their personality. Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites excellently distills the personality of the man not just in the way it’s written, but in the recipes contained within. In the book’s introduction, Bourdain writes after a two-and-a-half-page description of his family life “This is our family, and this is our family cookbook.” The recipes contained within aren’t meant to resemble the gourmet establishments he’s worked at or even the exotic locals whose food traditions (and liquor) he’s consumed at every opportunity. These are recipes that meant something to the man in his everyday life. Things he cooked on a regular basis and served at his own table. The food he chose to make when the cameras were off. In terms of variety, the food is all over the place. Almost every part of the world is represented some way and the quality of the food ranges from dinner party fare to hangover cures. Like the man himself, his recipes represent a mix of the high and low, the refined culinary expert crossed with the inner borough dirtbag. The meals have a warmth to them that come from nostalgia. They are Bourdain’s twist on the kinds of foods that are common in the culinary lives of many a modern American. It’s in that spirit that Cindy and I chose Bourdain’s recipe for Macaroni and Cheese as the starchy side dish to his meatloaf.
Cindy and I both love Mac n Cheese. There was a period as a kid where I pretty much lived off those blue boxes of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and holy Jesus do the pictures of me as a kid show it. This macaroni and cheese is assuredly not that. This recipe more closely mimics the homemade recipes your friend’s grandma made. The kind that was the most popular side dish at family picnics along with homemade fried chicken and whatever kind of cheap beer your uncles like to drink all the time. This recipe uses multiple high quality cheeses and a handful of unexpected ingredients to give it a kick your grandma’s mac n’ cheese probably didn’t have. How’d it go? Check it out!
- 1 pound dry elbow macaroni
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4½ cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- 5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 3 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
- 4 ounces cooked and thinly sliced ham, julienned (optional)
- 2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste freshly ground white pepper to taste (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.
- In a large, heavy-bottom pot, bring salted water to a boil and add the elbow macaroni. Cook according to the package instructions until just al dente, then drain and set aside.
- Make sure you have both a whisk and a wooden spoon nearby, and something to rest them on. You will be switching back and forth between the two utensils as you first make a roux and then build on that to make a béchamel.
- In the still-hot macaroni pot, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it foams and subsides. Whisk in the flour, then switch to a wooden spoon and stir steadily over medium-high heat until the mixture begins to turn a nutty golden brown, about 2 minutes. Do not let the mixture scorch. Whisk in the milk and bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring with the wooden spoon and making sure to scrape each part of the surface of the pan so that hunks of flour or milk do not stick. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook and stir until the mixture is slightly thicker than heavy cream.
- Whisk in the mustard powder, cayenne, and Worcestershire, then add half the Parmigiano-Reggiano (you’ll sprinkle the rest over the top) and the rest of the cheeses and, if using, the ham, and stir until the cheeses have melted completely. Stir in the cooked macaroni and mix well. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and optional pepper.
- Transfer the mixture to a glass or ceramic casserole, top with the remaining Parmigiano, and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the mixture is bubbling slightly.
- Serve hot, or refrigerate and gently reheat the whole thing, or in portions as needed.
We were excited by the meal the minute we saw the array of cheeses present in our Trader Joe’s shopping cart. These are cheeses that are not bought on the regular which heightened our excitement! As we grated, mixed, and poured all the cheeses together with the steaming macaroni, it made me reflect on how far we have come as cooks. Before Jeff, I use to cook to fill up my never ending black hole of a stomach. Now I cook with someone I love and am creating wonderful memories with (while still try to fill my always hungry stomach). This concept is also very evident in Bourdain’s book, where he reveals to the reader the wonderful memories he has shared with loved ones while making these dishes. Once we completed and tried the Mac & cheese, it not only tasted delicious and created a great experience tied to it, but now we will be making this at large parties to share. Overall, this is a must have side dish! Try to make it the next time you have a huge number of people over or when you are in the Mac & cheese mood. Thank you for taking the time to read this yummy post and stay tuned for future recipes!
Jeff & Cindy