Just When I Thought I Had A Good Restaurant...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My heart fell like a two ton block of optimism when I read the latest news, that Chef James Boyce now formerly of Studio at the Montage in Laguna Beach, has resigned his position as executive chef (!!). I wrote my blog about our anniversary tasting menu and was so pleased and excited to have found our Go To Fancy Restaurant in the area, which is like finding the Holy Grail itself when you have two very small children and can't venture out too far for a date.

It's not clear exactly why he left, but it must have been something major. Boyce was semi-finalist this year for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Pacific, that certainly would have brought him and Studio a great deal of publicity and money. Would it be too much for me to hope with my heart of hearts that Boyce is secretly planning to open up his own restaurant in the area that might be devoid of the uber-pretentiousness of The Montage? And that I could truly experience a Boyce Experience without the snarling stares of over-confident I'm Better Than You Because I Clean Toilets At A Five Star Restaurant staff as we make our way down to the restaurant?!

I'm holding steadfast in my optimism, but have a nagging feeling that like most other great chefs, sadly Southern California is not the culinary scene. And I resign myself to the inevitable that for quality food, and I mean true, worth-your-money-overly-priced-truffle-and-caviar-infused-orgasms, I must venture north...way north...to the Bay Area or take advantage of my free ticket on United Airlines and go to NYC.


The Best Macaroni and Cheese Recipe - EVER

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

If I have finicky eaters coming over for dinner, I make this. If I have kids coming over, this is served. If it's a cold and rainy day outside or a pot luck dinner I'm invited to...well, you get the picture. Mac & Cheese is a classic American comfort food that when done badly is just plain wrong, but when done right is the best thing ever.

I'm not one to hold on to recipes and keep them for my own. I get really annoyed with people who do that. I appreciate how the (old) fine chefs on foodnetwork like Bobby and Mario and Emeril share their recipes on a free website so the rest of us could share in the glory of food. Becasue I agree with them - what's great food if you can't share it with other people? Food is joy. And good food is nirvana.

Which brings me to this macaroni and cheese recipe. It's perfection. It's updated. It's classic but more sophisticated than your classic box powder cheese sauce. It's worth all the work, and please pony up for the better quality cheeses. And invest in a good grater, because no cheese of consequence will be found in pre-shredded or grated form. You're gonna have to put in the work on this one, but trust me...it's all worth it in the end.

I now give you, Emeril's Mac & Cheese:

4 tablespoons butter, plus 2 tablespoons, plus 1 tablespoon

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups half and half

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon Emeril's Red Hot Sauce (or Frank's Red Hot)

8 1/2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other good-quality parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)

1 pound elbow macaroni

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

4 ounces grated cheddar cheese

4 ounces grated fontina cheese

4 ounces grated gruyere cheese

1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon Essence or Creole Seasoning

In a heavy, medium saucepan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and whisk in the half and half little by little. Cook until thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, season with the salt, pepper, hot sauce and 4 ounces of the grated parmesan. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt to taste and, while stirring, add the macaroni. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to a low boil and cook for about 5 minutes, or until macaroni is very al dente (slightly undercooked). Drain in a colander and return the macaroni to the pot. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and the garlic and stir to combine. Add the bechamel sauce and stir until well combined. Set aside. Using the remaining tablespoon of butter, grease a 3-quart baking dish or casserole and set aside. In a large bowl combine 4 ounces of the remaining parmesan cheese, cheddar, fontina and gruyere cheeses. Toss to combine.

Place one-third of the macaroni in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with one-third of the mixed cheeses. Top with another third of the macaroni and another third of the cheese mixture. Repeat with the remaining macaroni and cheese mixture. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, remaining 1/2 ounce of grated parmesan, and the Essence and toss to combine. Sprinkle this over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the macaroni and cheese is bubbly and hot and the top is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

It's a beautiful thing.

My Tips:

If I have kids coming over for dinner, I make chicken tenders to go with and some sort of steamed vegetable like broccoli.

If it's an adult dinner party I'll do a green salad on the side and maybe some roasted cherry tomatoes. I've also done sauteed zucchini and fried chicken. If you're gonna go, you gotta go big, right?!

If making just for our family, I'll divide the batch in two and freeze one for later use. It freezes very well up to 3 months, but I promise you won't wait that long to eat it.

I use Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, real Parmesano-Reggiano that I pulse in the food processor to get fine, cave-aged Gruyere and a good Fontina cheese. I great all the cheeses myself. This can be done a day in advance