Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Cheese, Please--But Not for Me

I am not a fussy eater. I will consume just about anything that's edible and enjoy things that some people wouldn't eat if their lives depended on it--oysters on the half shell and sweetbreads being just two examples. But this food lover can't eat an entire food group: dairy.

Sometime after my 25th birthday, I was no longer able to have milk, cream or cheese. A grilled cheese sandwich or a lobster bisque would bring on a crippling stomach ache. I cannot describe the irony of this punishment--no more triple cremes just as I learned how to enjoy these runny cheeses.

Fortunately, lactose is found only in cow's milk and there are some excellent sheeps milk and goat cheeses available. Even though I get to enjoy Humbolt Fog, a lovely aged goat cheese, I miss having a slice of Point Reyes Blue, another locally made cheese that makes my knees weak.

So why do I have a block of Grafton Village cheddar in my refrigerator? So I can make macaroni and cheese, of course.

...for John, that is. He loves potatoes and pasta; he loves cheese. Put them together, and I swear you've never seen a happier man. He has left half-eaten steaks on his plate so he can polish off an entire Gruyere-potato gratin. So I decided that I would have a John-sized macaroni and cheese bake waiting for him when he got home from Mike's.

I started by making a bechamel. I melted some butter in a pan over low heat and added flour when it melted. You have to stir this mixture for at least four minutes until it foams, or you'll be able to taste the raw flour. When this turned a light golden brown, I added a large pinch of cayenne pepper and salt. Adding hot milk a half cup at a time, I whisked the sauce slowly and carefully. I still remember the first time a hot milk-butter globule hit my hand from overzealous stirring.

I then added a few cups of grated cheddar. The cheese melted into the bechamel and became a viscous sauce. I poured this over a bowl of cooked baby macaroni and made sure every noodle was smothered.

After making three layers of pasta and grated cheddar, I browned some bread crumbs in butter and sprinkled this topping over the dish. It went into the oven and the aroma of bubbling cheddar spread through the house. Mordecai and Zachary, my grey tabbies, paced the perimeter of the kitchen, hoping for a little scrap of cheese.

Thirty minutes later, John walked through the front door and tucked into a plate of baked macaroni and cheese. He loves breaking through the crunchy crust to reveal a molten interior of cheesy pasta. My inner nutritionist balances out the inner hedonist, so a dish of carrots and green beans lightly blanched in garlic broth rounded out the meal.

This dinner of childhood classics wouldn't be complete without dessert, so I made cupcakes and frosted them with a simple genache. I brought a cup of cream to boil and whisked in eight ounces of Ghiradelli chocolate until it was smooth. After a slight chill, I whipped the genache until it was a fluffy frosting. I may not be able to indulge in these treats myself, but that doesn't mean that my loved ones go without.

This is added to my new recipe list. Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorites--but it was never as good as I can tell this is.

So that's how you make a sauce.
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