Well, my first fix and freeze adventure was a huge success! I started out the weekend on Saturday making two dishes and finished up on Monday with two more, for a total of 8 meals and several days worth of soup! Sadly, I’m going to have to try and keep your attention with my writing, as my slightly distracted and in a hurry hubby left me with the DSLR , and no memory card. The worst part? I was too busy cooking and photographing to realize the green blinking light telling me there was no memory card…it’s really not cool how it allows you to take a photo, even LOOK at it, and then it disappears…with no memory card. I think I’m allowed to plead clueless to this digital mistake, as my college photography courses were spent with film…the lost art. The photo is on the film. It doesn’t go anywhere. No matter what. Anyways. So step by step photos are a loss, but I do have some terribly awful iPhone photos of the finished product for 2 of my dishes. Next time, next time.
Let’s start out easy. The first dish I made was an incredibly simple, incredibly yummy macaroni and cheese. Now, this incredibly simple comfort staple, does have a lot of room for mistake. Yes, you can mess up one of life’s best culinary inventions by making it too bland, leaving you with a flavorless, goopy, disaster of a mess. So go ahead and tweak as you see necessary, I know I did.
Fix & Freeze Lesson One: When cooking a pasta dish to freeze, it’s important to NOT cook the pasta all the way through. Actually, you’re hardly going to cook it at all. This allows cooking time in the oven without the pasta expanding into a solid block of starchy noodles.
And now for the recipe. This recipe was adapted from Cooks Country. What is Cooks Country you ask? It’s the sister publication to Cooks Illustrated (my favorite…) with an emphasis on home style cooking…less of the crazy techniques and more easy, family friendly recipes. Hence, why they have an amazing make ahead recipe for mac and cheese!
Why this recipe works for freezing: We are increasing the sauce to pasta ratio so that there is an overload of sauce preventing the pasta from drying out during the freezing process. We are also undercooking the pasta by quite a bit. The sauce then finishes cooking the pasta when you pop it in the oven to perfection.
Make Ahead Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Meghan Erwin, Cooks Country
- 4 slices of hearty white sandwich bread torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
- 1 garlic clove, minced (I always double the garlic, so use 2, unless they are large cloves)
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 pound elbow macaroni ( I like Barilla’s elbows, they have little ridges on the elbows..a perfect trap for any sauce)
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1-2 teaspoons of dry mustard (use this to taste…I liked a little more, so I added a little more)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (same here…like it spicy? Then try a little more!)
- 4 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (do NOT substitute milk in this recipe. The reason this recipe works is because of the fat content in cream. The proteins in milk will cause the sauce to curdle.)
- 4 cups shredded colby cheese*
- 2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese*
*A note on cheeses. You can essentially use whatever cheeses you love. If you want a fancy swiss fondue style mac and cheese, substitute in Emmentaller and Gruyere. If you like a super cheddary sauce, use 4 cups of mild cheddar in place of the colby.
Step 1: Process the topping. Pulse bread, parmesan, garlic and 2 tablespoons of butter in a food processor until coarsely ground. Divide crumb mixture between 2 zip-lock freezer bags and freeze.
Step 2: Cook Pasta: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat in a dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni and cook until barely softened, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta and spread out onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Do not leave in a colander, it will stick together in one big clump. A note on rinsing pasta: Don’t do it. The starch left on the pasta help the sauces adhere to the noodles.
Step 3: Make the Sauce: Heat remaining butter, four, mustard and cayenne in the dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring constantly until golden and fragrant. About 2 minutes. (You are making a white sauce here) Slowly whisk in broth and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper until smooth.
Step 4: Stir cooled pasta into the sauce, breaking up any noodles that may have stuck together, until well combined. The mixture WILL BE SOUPY. It’s supposed to be, trust me. Divide the pasta into 2 8×8 Glad Ovenware containers and let cool to room temperature. (See terrible iPhone photo below…) Once cooled, cover, and freeze up to 2 months.
To Bake: Preheat oven to 375. Ovenware must be placed in an oven that has been preheated for 20 minutes. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Microwave the mac and cheese about 10-14 minutes until thawed and cheese starts to bubble around the sides, stirring half way through cooking. Remove plastic cover (not oven safe), cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes in the oven. Remove the foil and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Continue to bake until crumbs are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minute before serving.
UPDATE! We tried this last night and it was DELICIOUS! I adjusted the cooking times above. It is very rich…you don’t need much to fill up! It was the perfect dish to serve my husband when he arrived home from his long business trip.