Part XXII: Deluxify
What do you want?
You’ve heard that before, right? Probably from an annoyed boss (look, staplers are a lot harder to operate than the box would have you believe), or from that friend who’s long-overdue favor you’ve finally decided to cash in. But most of the time, when you hear that particular collection of words, you’re peering over the top of a menu to listen. And really, before your gum-smacking waitress with eye-liner so thick you swear you could see a pelican drowning in there writes down your order, you have to ask yourself…what do I really want?
After all, that’s what food really is, at least now, in the 21st, iPhone-laden Bieber-worshipping century. For most of us (or at least the lucky ones), we get choices. Chicken over fish, mint chocolate chip over rocky road (and that IS the right choice, by the way). When we get home from another eight hours of cubicle head-slamming, we get to step up to the stove and decide what we want, hell, we get to create what we want. Sure, on the surface it’s just a matter of which three spices you want to plop in a bowl with some onions and garlic. But you know it’s deeper than that.
Sometimes who decides what you want is your inner fattie: “Oh I’m gonna have that ice cream sandwich, I deserved it for putting up with that idiot of a roommate. How dare he demand that I stop using my vintage typewriter right outside his room at 3 am I HAVE A MESSAGE TO TELL THE WORLD DAMNIT”
Sometimes it’s biological: “Ok, I’ll just eat this oatmeal and that technically counts as dinner and now I can watch Oz for 4 more hours and cry myself into oblivion oh god what have I done”
And sometimes it’s the you from 15 years ago: “CEREAL. I WANT CEREAL. AND TOYS. MOSTLY TOYS.”
I’m not gonna get on my high horse and declare that my Bacon Mac and Cheese is what everyone wants. But it’s pretty damn good. And more importantly, it fully satisfies all of the invisible people inside of me I just invented up there. Get some pots. Make those invisible people happy.
Here’s what you need:
– 10 strips of bacon (yes it’s a lot, no I don’t hear you complaining. Get the good stuff if you can, the thicker the better)
– 1 lb penne (not macaroni. Penne. It’s important, and I’ll tell you why in a bit)
– 6 (that’s 3/4 of a stick) tablespoons butter
– 1/2 cup AP flour
– 4 cups milk
– 12 ounces shredded cheddar
– 8 ounces shredded havarti
– 1/2 cup panko
There’s a few things you need to know about this particular permutation of mac and cheese, or any permutation for that matter.
1. Use penne. Yes, I know the usual common sense I strive for would say to use macaroni because IT’S IN THE DAMN NAME, but penne and cheese sounds stupid, and penne just works better. It’s a tube with ridges, so nearly every part of it is tailor-made for holding in that cheesy goodness. Plus, it’s bigger than macaroni, and why would you want smaller pasta?
2. Get the right kind of cheeses: one for flavor, and one for texture. In my case, I’m using Havarti and Cheddar. One gives you the creaminess, the other gives you a nice sharp bite, so you get the perfect blend to help tie the whole thing together.
3. Bacon. Yeah, I’m not explaining that one.
4. Bake it up and use panko. By now you should know that panko’s just outright superior to regular bread crumbs, and you shouldn’t be questioning the matter. And it might seem lame or “casserole-y”, but baking it toasts that panko and bakes in the flavor. So do it.
Ok, actual recipe time.
First, preheat your oven to 350.
Then, get a large pot of water boiling, sprinkle a little salt and cook your pasta. Because you’ll be doing this while you start the cheese-related parts, it’ll finish while you have a whole bunch of things cooking and simmering and sizzling and whatnot. Deal with it. This is a big boy recipe, so just make sure you don’t end up in the burn ward of your local friendly hospital and you’ll be fine.
Speaking of sizzling, pile all your bacon in a big skillet and start cooking it on medium-high. Again, this should finish in time to add it to your cheese sauce at the end. Also it’ll make your whole house smell like bacon. You’re welcome.
Put the butter into a big saucepan and melt on medium-low. Stir in your flour and stir for another minute. In case you didn’t know, that particular combination is called a roux, and it’s the secret to every supremely fat recipe ever made. Here it is used in a sentence: “Hey, you’re using a roux in that sauce! Guess I’ll be ordering that hoverround with the snack bar attachment tonight.”
Pour in the milk, and whisk until you can’t see any more chunks of the roux. Then turn your heat up to medium and cook for 5 minutes. When it’s thick enough to cover the back of a spoon, take it off the burner.
CHEEEESE. Add it. Add all of it, add a little pepper, and stir until it’s melted and smooth. Don’t worry if every single bit of it isn’t melted, the oven’ll take care of that.
By now you should have some fully-cooked pasta and even-more-fully-cooked bacon on your hands. Put the bacon on some paper towels to drain some of the grease, then mix in the pasta with your cheese sauce.
After that’s good and combined, break up the bacon with your hands and mix that in too.
Next, pour everything into a big baking dish, sprinkle your panko over the top (1/2 a cup’s a pretty general measurement, by the way. Wanna add more? Do it.), and put it in the oven.
Bake for 25 minutes, take it out, and watch it all disappear. Instantly.
Luckily, you won’t have to worry about the beats disappearing. This week supply yourself with Oddisee’s The Supplier, featuring Tranqill:
Look people. You know I’m not too good with the feel-goods. In fact I’ve been running a bit low lately. That being said, I still think what I said in the intro makes a damn good bit of sense. Your day really is about getting what you want, in the end. Even those self-righteous Mother Teresa-y types. You wanna help people for a living? You do it. You wanna shove some cheese in your face at the end of a long day? You do that too. Don’t complicate things, readers. Go get some of what you want. It ain’t that hard. See you next week.