Wednesday, February 10, 2010



Today marks both the my son's 6th birthday and the end of a weeklong birthday celebration of restaurant dinners and parties. My mom's birthday is on the 1st and when she and my father arrived from New York we took them to celebrate at local chef Carrie Nahabedian's almost eponymous restaurant, Naha. We were treated like kings and queens by host and staff alike, enjoying a dinner of locally sourced delights. Saturday and Sunday were the family and kids parties, respectively. Today, the very end of the festivities, we'll share a casual dinner for 5 at Thor's favorite restaurant DMK Burger Bar after a classroom celebration of Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins baked into train shapes.

It also marks the 100th post on LITTLE LOCAVORES, another cause for merriment. To thank all of you for reading about our family adventures eating from the farmers' market, I wanted to share one of my top secret recipes, a great favorite in our house. We served this dish at Thor's Birthday Bowl at Smarty Party, inspiring several of his friends to ask for second and third portions. The remainder of the dish pleased the parent/chauffeurs, many of whom requested the recipe.

Macaroni and Cheese
8 to 12 servings

The secret to this recipe is the secret ingredient: beer. It's just a touch, but I think it rounds out the cheese sauce. I tend to use a relatively dark beer and share the rest of it with Mike over dinner. The cheese sauce may look a touch curdled after you add the seasonings, but it all comes together once it's baked.

1 pound whole wheat macaroni, cooked according to the package
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole or 2% milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon beer
1/8 teaspoon worcestire sauce
Pinch cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
2 cups grated comte or gruyere
½ cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Heat the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour and cook stirring constantly for approximately 2-3 minutes. Add milk to the pan while whisking constantly. Cook until the béchamel coats the back of a spoon distinctly, approximately 7 minutes. Whisk in mustards, cayenne pepper, worcestire sauce, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add cheese and stir until melted.

Butter the baking pan. Carefully add pasta to the cheese sauce in the saucepan. Scrape the pasta and cheese mix into the prepared pan. Mix together the panko bread crumbs, butter and parmesan in a small bowl and sprinkle on top of the casserole. Bake for approximately 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Do-ahead notes: The pasta and cheese sauce can be mixed and kept in the baking pan 4 hours ahead. The topping can be mixed earlier in the day and spread on top just prior to baking.

Kids' Cooking Tips: Kids will love measuring the ingredients and mixing the sauce. Just be prepared to lose more than a few macaroni in the process.

Stay tuned for our 101st post where we will host our FIRST ever blog giveaway of Rick Bayless' Everyday Mexican.

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