Ever get annoyed? Ever feel like someone needs to be told where the dog died? Or handed a crowbar and a tub of Elbow Grease to help them pry their head out of their arse? Congratulations--you've come to the right place.

And when I'm not commenting on the latest thing to piss me off, I'm trying to figure out my own twisted life. Because, hey, I'm like that.

On a gentler note: for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, and other assorted bullshit: You are NOT alone.

And if you're looking for a laugh, search on the key word "fuckery." It's just my little thing (as the bishop said to the actress).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's Cookin': Guinness Mac 'n' Cheese Recipe

OK, I finally got around to making the Guinness mac 'n' cheese. I have to say... it's as close to perfect as mac 'n' cheese has ever gotten. It has even passed the Day 2 Microwave Test. SCORE!

The history... I have a thing for intense flavor. I'm not a spicy person--i.e. I am not addicted to hot sauce and anything that will set my digestive tract on fire--but I like serious flavor. The problem I have with most mac 'n' cheese, whether it be the boxed shite (although Annie's Peace Pasta is fairly yummy) or what you get in restaurants, is that most of it is BLAND. Blech. BLAND. A plate of gummy pasta with a cheese sauce that has nothing in it but a pinch of salt and a dusting of nutmeg (an ingredient in mac 'n' cheese I will NEVER understand). The only places I've ever had mac 'n' cheese that I found passable were Tavern in the Square (their White Truffle m'n'c is excellent), The Barley House (more below), and Not Your Average Joe's. Beyond that... the pasta version of spackle OR the chemical cheese factory.

So a couple of years ago, I embarked on the mission to create the World's Best Mac 'n' Cheese (according to my tastes, at least), a baked pasta dish that would incorporate amazing cheese, good pasta, some decent protein, and cause the diner to speak in tongues, it's so damn good. (Hey, I aim high.) It's been a journey up a road full of potholes. Early experiments were edible, but not sharable--I could eat the stuff, but really didn't want to share. The cheese mix... happening but not perfect. The protein... *sigh* Although I do like Niman Ranch ham steak as a protein choice, it just wasn't happening. It was putting the flavor of the rest of the dish slightly off.

The break-through--the AH-HA! moment that gave me the kick in the bum I needed came last summer. I had the mac 'n' cheese at The Barley House in Concord, NH. Their m'n'c is made with Guinness-based cheddar cheese sauce and a Ritz cracker crumb topping. It is also out of this freakin' world. I reread the menu description after lunch, just to get an idea of what the ingredients were and then began my research. Well, a net-troll turned up zero on the recipe front; HOWEVER, I did find a number of beer fondue recipes.

The first try was good. I made a lot of notes on the beer fondue recipe I had found on the net--what I added, etc. This incredibly valuable document was one of the things the idiots threw away (along with all of the rest of my research for the cookbook). Luckily, I found it. Last night, in consultation with that and The Joy of Cooking, the recipe was perfected. (And I knew I got it right because I caught Mum sneaking second helpings half an hour later.)

Which brings us to The Recipe. This is a certified Rizoriginal--fresh from the test kitchen of Hell's Vestibule. One warning: it's VERY filling and a bit rich, so keep your portions reasonable. Half a cup to a cup of this plus a good green salad makes for an excellent meal.

If you try this recipe, PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS. I want to know how it works for others.

Guinness Mac 'n' Cheese a l'Empress (aka the Best Frickin' Mac 'n' Cheese on the Planet)

1 16 oz bottle Guiness or other good stout
1 - 1.5 cups beef broth
3/4 cup Half-and-half (milk is fine)
dash Tabasco
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
Fresh pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Celery salt
1 - 1.5 lbs of cheese, coarsely grated*
.5 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 lb. pasta (I used small shells; elbows are also good)
1-2 tablespoons butter

1 package of cheese & garlic croutons
1 dozen saltines
.5 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of butter
Fresh pepper
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Celery salt

Cooked chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta (I do this on low heat while I make the sauce).
Pour the bottle of stout into a large sauce pan; heat to a low simmer & add the beef broth, half-and-half, tabasco, Worcestershire, & spices, giving it a stir after each ingredient goes in. Add the brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the butter and stir to dissolve. Bring to a simmer.
Grate the cheese while the sauce is heating. Once the liquid on the stove is simmering, add the cheese in handfuls, stirring to melt evenly (it may clump; don't panic).
Once the cheese is thoroughly melted, remove from the heat. Stir occasionally while the pasta cooks.
Bring the pot of water to a full boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente.
Make the crust while the pasta is cooking: melt the butter in a microwave-proof bowl (I use a large Pyrex measuring cup). Dump the the croutons into a one quart zip-bag and crush into large crumbs; add the saltines and crush them into the mix. Dump the crumbs into the melted butter, add the parmesan cheese & spices, and mix thoroughly.
Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, stir in butter until melted, and stir in the cheese sauce. Stir in the chicken.
Pour the pasta mixture into a 9x13 baking dish (or a foil lasagna pan supported by a cookie sheet) and smooth it fairly level. Sprinkle the crumb mixture on top. Bake for 30 -45 minutes in the middle of the oven (I use the convect setting on my oven for half an hour). Allow to cool for fifteen minutes at least before serving.

This will give you eight HUGE portions or twelve reasonable portions. This can also be reheated in the microwave--depending on your wave, 1-2 minutes on high.

* The cheese mix is the secret to this recipe's success. I am a devoted Trader Joe's shopper, and quite frankly, they have the best and most affordable selection of cheese in my neighborhood. Whole Foods may have more, but their prices are too damn high. For this batch, I used 4 ounces of Trader Joe's Cheddar/Gruyere cheese, 8 ounces of English Coastal Cheddar, and 9 ounces of Wisconsin Mild Cheddar (plus the grated parm). Play with the mix and find what you like. This one works for me--it's a nice combination of sharp, mild and sour.

I may try one more pass at this with some Greek yogurt added to the pasta after it's drained. Just for shits and giggles and to up the protein content and nutritional value.

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