For the past few days it has been rainy and windy, uncharacteristic weather for Las Vegas. Whenever it is windy here, it is very windy, to the point where I am concerned that my windows aren't going to be able to withstand the strong gusts. It also seems that the wind decides to arrive only on garbage pick-up days, and people all over the neighborhood can be spotted running up and down the streets, chasing their garbage cans or looking for the ones that have blown away (it sounds funny until it happens to you...).
No, the wind is not the best part of this weather, but the rain is kind of nice. Because it never rains in Las Vegas, and because not many people here know how to drive in wet conditions, residents view rainy days as an opportunity to stay inside, get things accomplished around the house, and in my case, cook up some hearty comfort food.
Macaroni and cheese is the quintessential comfort food, something that is rich and filling and evokes memories of mom's home cooking. It is served in every region of the United States, each with their own variation, whether it's sharp cheddar cheese in New England or chilies, cilantro and Monterey Jack in the Southwest. No matter which ingredients make up the casserole, it always bakes up browned and bubbling with an irresistible aroma. This recipe is more of a "grown-up" mac 'n cheese, with meaty wild mushrooms and a rich creamy sauce. Serve it as a surprise during a dinner party, when your guests are expecting filet mignon or a roast--I promise that nobody will complain! Here are a few tips for mouth watering mac 'n cheese:
- When selecting the mixed wild mushrooms for this recipe, try to find a blend of a few of the following varieties: portobello, crimini (baby portobellos), shiitake, and oyster. These types generally have more flavor than the standard button mushrooms. When slicing the mushrooms, be sure to stem them first and rub off any grit with a cloth or paper towel.
- Dried porcini mushrooms should be available in the produce section of your grocery store. If you cannot find porcini, then substitute whatever is available (dried shiitake, oyster, chanterelle, etc.).
- This is a very rich recipe. To lighten it up a bit, substitute low-fat milk for the whole milk, substitute reduced-fat cheese for some or all of the cheese, and substitute whole milk or half and half for the heavy cream. I like to use a mixture of both white and yellow cheddar.
- Instead of using elbow macaroni, try using penne, rigatoni, spaghetti, or substitute a whole wheat pasta to make it healthier.
- After removing the casserole from the oven, let it sit for 10 -15 minutes so that it solidifies a bit and is easier to portion out.
Wild Mushroom Macaroni and Cheese
For mushroom mixture:
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
2 medium leeks, washed and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
4 cups mixed, sliced wild mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
For macaroni and cheese sauce:
2 cups elbow macaroni
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon dry mustard
5 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the porcini mushrooms in the boiling water until softened, about 15 minutes. Strain the porcinis through a mesh sieve into a bowl, reserving the liquid. Squeeze the excess liquid from the mushrooms into the sieve, and then rinse any extra grit from the mushrooms and chop.
Cook the chopped leeks in the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to high and then add all of the mushrooms, the reserved soaking liquid, and the wine. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have softened and the liquid has reduced to about ½ cup, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cream and stir to combine. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and transfer the mixture to a 3-quart shallow baking dish, spreading evenly on the bottom.
Make the macaroni and cheese sauce: Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Cook the macaroni in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente per the package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and then whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and about ¼ teaspoon pepper and boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in 3 cups of the cheese until melted. Remove from the heat and whisk in the macaroni and 1 ½ cups more of the cheese. Spread the macaroni mixture over the mushrooms in the dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining ½ cup cheese. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 30 minutes.