Apple Cheddar Mac and Cheese
1 1/4 Cups Pasta - I used whole wheat rigatoni
1 1/2 Cups Apples (two medium apples) - I left the peel on mine, but feel free to peel them if you like, I'm just lazy
2 Tablespoons Butter
1/4 Cup Onion, diced
2 Tablespoons Flour
2 1/4 Cups Milk - I used about 3/4 1% milk and the rest half and half. I've made white sauce with many combinations of milks. I think it tastes best when I use at least part of a high fat (either whole or half and half) milk product.
1 Bay Leaf
2 1/3 Cups Shredded Cheddar - I like to shred my own from a block because it doesn't have that weird powdery stuff on it that pre-shredded does, so it melts better. However, if you have the pre-shredded, definitely use it and save a trip to the store.
1/2 Teaspoon dry sherry - I was going to substitute white wine, as I didn't have sherry but always have wine, but I actually forgot (perhaps I shouldn't drink as much wine while cooking?) and it was fine.
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/3 Cup Breadcrumbs - I used whole wheat Italian seasoned.
Pre-heat the oven to 350. I chose to do this significantly in advance because my house is freezing and I refuse to turn the heat on until November 15th.
Then, get a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Make sure to salt it liberally.
While the water is coming up to a boil, go ahead and get everything else set up. Although I don't really use a mise en place for all my cooking as I should, having everything set up ahead of time is EXTREMELY important for something like a white sauce, which requires a lot of attention and quick steps.
Shred the cheese
Chop the onion and apples
Pour the milk
Cut the butter
Measure the flour
Collect your spices
This makes the entire thing go SO MUCH faster because there isn't the moment of panic in which you realize that you haven't measured out the milk that you need to stir in right now and all the measuring cups are dirty. Not that this has ever happened to me.
Now, it is time to being making your cheese sauce. First, melt the butter over medium heat. When it's melted, add in the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to smell like awesome in your house.
Then, add the flour and stir like crazy until it's all incorporated. This should take about 1 minute. A whisk works best for this, and a flat whisk works better.
After about a minute, start adding in your milk slowly, stirring all the while. This is also a good time to add in some salt and pepper, as well as the bay leaf. I think that seasoning a little as you go makes for a better final dish.
Keep stirring until you see tiny bubbles start to form. Then, turn the heat down a little bit and allow to thicken for around 10 minutes. The thickness is really a matter of personal preference; I personally prefer to have a thicker sauce, as that leads to a thicker final dish. However, there's no reason not to have soupy mac and cheese if that's what you like.
After the sauce has thickened to your liking, add in the cheese and the sherry/wine (if you don't forget). It's easier to add this a little at at time too, so that it doesn't get clumpy.
Check your seasonings and add more salt and pepper as appropriate. And please for the love of God, remove the bay leaf. They add amazing flavor to dishes, but are DISGUSTING to bite into.
Mix the cheese sauce with the apples and pasta, then put into a greased baking dish. Top with a little bit of cheese and the bread crumbs.
Bake at 350 until golden brown on top - mine took about 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least five minutes before digging in.
I ate this in large volume for my meal, but it would also be a great side for pork chops or steak.
Question of the Day:
What is your favorite mac and cheese mix in?