Thursday, August 30, 2012

Crafting IRL: Spicy Mac'n Cheese

  I like to cook, which is why I work at Olive Garden. I'm just a dishwasher now, but I'd like to advance to Culinary Assistant eventually. For now, my forays into cooking are limited to my own kitchen.

  While I was wandering around the grocer, wondering what to get for some pasta shells I never matched up to anything, I saw a can of nacho sauce and had this idea for a version of macaroni and cheese.

2 cans Ricos Nacho Cheddar Cheese Sauce
1 lb shell macaroni
1 1/2 lbs grape tomatoes
crushed red pepper
cayenne powder
chili powder

Prep time: 20 minutes

  First, I set a big pot of water to boil, and a saucepan with a bit of oil on medium. It's important to cook pasta right, which means lots of water for it to swim in. To little water makes it gummy.

 See how the tomatoes are starting to caramelize a bit at the edges.

   While the saucepan warmed, I halved the grape tomatoes, so the juices could come out to play. I sauteed them in two batches, since there needs to be enough room in the pan for steam to escape and not make the tomatoes soggy.

   After the tomatoes were done, I set them aside. When the pasta finished cooking, I drained them, while saving some of the pasta water. It's great for adding to sauces.

  Since the saute pan is full of crusty caramelized tomatoe goodness, I made the sauce in it. I dumped the cheese sauce in and added about a half cup of the starch water at first, just to get it liquid enough to stir. It tasted a bit bland, so I added a few shakes of salt, a bit of crushed red pepper, half as much chili powder and half as much cayenne powder, for a 2-1-1 ratio. It's my personal 3 C's seasoning for spicy food.

  Here I'm just playing with the consistency, adding starch water until I like the way it runs. I don't want it to be too watery, but it does need to coat all the pasta.

  After I got it looking good, I added the tomatoes back in to warm back up and to let the flavors mix a bit. I let that sit on medium low for a couple minutes.

  When the sauce looked ready, I dumped it in with the pasta, adding just a bit more of the starch water to help the sauce coat all the shells. I let it sit for a minute on the warm burner to get the pasta warmed back up, and to let it all settle.

  Now it's ready to eat. But it needs something....

  There we go!

*Edit* It turned out a bit too spicy for my taste, so I made some more cheese sauce for the leftovers. The extra sauce balanced out the spices and made the dish better. There wasn't really enough sauce for all the pasta, and I think it also needs more tomatoes for a bit more sweetness, so I updated the recipe above.

  I fried up some smoked sausage with some of the leftovers and paired it with a Somersault Ale. I'm always a fan of Guinness, but for this dish, the ale's fruity sweetness with a fair amount of hop paired well with the spicy, slightly sweet flavor of the dish, accented by the savoriness of the sausage.

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