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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Macaroni For Fifty

Two days ago, I was voluntold to make "homemade, baked Macaroni and Cheese" for the Blue & Gold cubscout event. Now, I think I'd made this dish once before, years ago, and it was for one other person. And I didn't like how it turned out. Frankly, we aren't big mac n cheese eaters at our house, so this dish befuddled me like no dish before. Not only was I to make the dish, but I was to make it for fifty some people, and, a sly rumor had been started by the cubmaster that I "had an amazing mac n cheese recipe." I didn't!
Pressure on, the cubmaster's wife gave me the dried macaroni noodles, all six pounds of them. (It's a lot more than it sounds.) Then she said her recipe called for four pounds of cheese plus some extra stuff, that she was sure I already knew because apparently, when it comes to mac n cheese, she's heard I have won awards for the stuff. Geez...
I bought the four pounds of cheese, some cream and then realized I was so ill prepared for this cooking event that I wasn't sure where to start. I started googling "Mac n Cheese recipes," "Baked Mac n Cheese recipes," and even, "Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese recipes." I didn't like the idea of adding egg to the recipe, because that was what I had done those years ago and it turned out like micro-scrambled eggy-mac n cheese. I am a texture person and this wasn't having it. I figured the people want creamy when they are going for a classic comfort dish like mine. So, I started researching creamy macaroni and cheese recipes to find one that seemed simple enough. Make a roux, add milk, thus making a bechamel sauce, then add lots of cheese, including something I had not thought of...VELVEETA!
I personally think that stuff is nasty. Cheese that doesn't need to sit in the refridgerated isle is wrong, wrong, wrong! But, who am I to argue with the people?
So, I went to the store, bought an additional 6 lbs of cheese. (You got it, that made my total 10 bloated pounds of cheesey goodness.) a bag of potato chips, and more cream.
Let an hour go by and i begin the cooking process in a huge pot used normall for stews and soups, (it easily makes 10 gallons) and I decide to first cook the macaroni in the pot. The water takes a year it seems to start to boil. So, imaptiently I add the dry pasta to the ever-heating water and stir, watch, then stir and watch some more. Al dente takes a good 12 minutes of this repetition. I'm eager and waiting to start this creamy cheese sauce.
So, as instructed, I make a roux of flour and butter. Only while the two are frizzle-frying away do I realize, I forgot to heat my milk first. Shit!
Adding cold liquid to a hot roux equals clumps, lots of clumps. And it slows the cooking process down to the very beginning. And, as I later found out, ensures the bottom of the milk sauce scalds and burns, creating a somewhat campfire taste throughout the sauce. Frantic, I started pouring hot milk sauce into various smaller pots until the big one was emptied. I rushed the pot to the sink and started scrubbing like I'd never scrubbed before. That burn ring was not going to ruin my award winning dish. Damnit! I managed to salvage the sauce for the most part, hoping that when the 9 pounds of cheese went it (1 pound was saved for topping) it would hide the lingering burnt acrid taste.
So, milk still on the cold side, I dropped that cheese in as if it were Jesus resurrecting the dead. I was hopeful. And patient. This time no burning was going to occur on my watch. I lowered my heat to nearly room temperature and stirred and stirred. It took about forty minutes for the cheeses to start melting into the milk sauce, but the final product, well, it was cheese-a-licious. The nasty taste was gone, replaced by something holy and wonderful, but something I don't normally eat a lot of, cheese.
I added the already cooked and silently waiting macaroni into the pot, and with mammoth strength, began stirring my caldron of gooey goodness. I divided that into 3 huge pans, 2 of which were tin and one, my enormous 20lb turkey roaster. (I filled that bad boy up.) I divied the leftover pound of cheddar into three piles and covered the top of each pan, then added palmfuls of crushed lays potato chips. Viola, my masterpiece was finished, almost. I had to place them in the oven and let the top cheese get all gooey and nice for a bit. I used that time to run my ass upstairs, get dressed and pretend I wasn't sweaty and cussing just a few minutes before.
Skip to my arrival. I anxiously place the mac n cheeses on the table, hoping I haven't sullied my name with this dish. About 30 minutes later, mealtime. To my surprise as I, at the end of the line, hit the food, I see another woman was tasked to make mac n cheese, the boxed kind! Hmph! The nerve! She was also behind all the mac n cheese on the table, and pushing hers vs. mine onto unwitting patrons. Well, I introduced myself as the "real" mac n cheese lady, then humbly declined a serving of her premade processed crap. I took heaping spoonfulls of my own, smiling and sighing with delight. Big mistake on my part.
By the time I sat down, I had a lot of food on my little plate. The mac n cheese, next to creamed corn, turkey hot dogs, fried chicken, french fries , (did I mention, this was an American themed dinner?) and a salad was a lot of starchy fatty food to ingest. But, like any patriotic American would do, I ate it. All of it. It was only towards the end, when I was finishing the last few bites (at least the last few I could take) of my own mac n cheese that I hit the wall. It's that place where your stomach finally sends his slow, tired friend up to your brain to let the body know, "hey, stop, we're freaking dying over here." And, that is when I felt it. I had conceived a cheese baby, and it was growing in my belly. I wasn't sure how long gestation would be, but I could feel that cheese baby kicking and moving inside of me. Ugh. Not good. I mentioned something to the cubmaster's wife about giving birth and she stared at my quizically. I was headed to the bathroom when I was bombarded by fans. My mac n cheese apparently was so good, it was like a restaurant. Wow, they serve that shit at restaurants too? I was asked for my recipe, and for some reason, all I could say was, "Ten pounds of cheese!" before making my dramatic exit. No baby was born that night. The monster waited until the wee hours of the morning to make "his" appearance.
Macaroni for fifty, that's one thing I can now cross of my bucket list.

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