Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Cheese Rind Mac and Cheese

I wish I could make this a Pete’s Recipes, but I’ve made this multiple times and never come even close to keeping track of quantities.  As an example, I checked out a few sites to see approximately how many pounds of cheese go into a normal mac and cheese since I guessed anywhere between 1/2 pound and 2 pounds for a pound of pasta.  In related news, I might be getting worse at this whole blogging thing, and you’re all going down with the ship.  Enjoy the ride!

I think the title of this one says it all, but I’ve found that the best mac and cheese usually involves several different flavorful cheeses in addition to the old mainstay, cheddar.  What better way to make a mac & cheese with those ingredients than to use the leftovers from a good cheese plate.  We’ve done this two ways; start a full day (football Sunday) party with a cheese plate and end the party with an awesome mac and cheese or just save the cheese rinds in the freezer for later use.

A little short on images for this post, took this one a few minutes before sitting down to write.  Each time I’ve made this I’ve remembered to photo document a portion of the process, then forgot the rest.  I’m considering home schooling Janet just so she can focus on photography for this blog

The idea is to use not just the cheese ends, but the wax rind too.  The rind adds a funky mushroom-like flavor when used in a cheese sauce, which works really well in a mac and cheese.

Before we get into the mac process (there’s not much to it so I need to kill some time), lets gab about the other ingredients that make mac and cheese great.  I have two go-tos, prosciutto/pancetta/bacon and peas OR mixed mushroom.  I like to do the prosciutto and peas version when I can get my hands on a reasonably priced shank.

I would rename this blog “Cheap Meat” if I wasn’t scared of drawing a seedier element that was disappointed with the non-racy content of the site

I know I say “write that down” a lot sarcastically here, but if you live in Boston you need to write down the name on that label.  They cure a whole leg of prosciutto for 14 months, but they can’t sell the narrow area by the shank for the standard $20-25 a pound, so they price it for a reasonable $4.  Again, write that North End address down, it makes a great ingredient in any meal.

Unlike the cheese, it’s good to cut away the fatty rind before cubing the prosciutto shank for use in your mac and cheese.  You can also immediately see the extra fattiness that makes this perfect for a punch of extra flavor in a cheese sauce when browned in the roux pan.

The extra fat is why the shank shouldn’t be bought for raw consumption.  Con and I both tried mightily on that front, lots of floss was required in the aftermath and generally it’s just much better as a cooked ingredient

With the meat and (possibly) vegetables prepped, it’s time to start boiling water for the macaroni.  I generally do a pound of macaroni which I boil just over half the recommended length of time, then strain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Put that off to the side while you brown your salty pork product.

And I’ve switched up the event.  This is from a different time when I used half a pack of leftover bacon.  I really didn’t want to insult your intelligence and pretend that picture was of the cubed prosciutto.  Please thank me at your earliest convenience

Once the meat and/or vegetables have browned, I use a slotted spoon to fish out the ingredients and leave the cooked off fat and liquids behind over medium/low heat.  Add to the pot two tablespoons of butter then whisk in around three tablespoons of flour, and you have a solid roux base for the cheese sauce.  I let that cook for 10 minutes stirring often to avoid overly browning or burning.

This is when it becomes a balancing act with milk and cheese (I don’t think the fat content of the milk matters, I’ve used skim and whole).  I usually whisk milk in slowly until the sauce has a thin gravy consistency, then add in handfuls of the grated cheese, starting with the rinds, melting/blending completely before adding more.  Season heavily with white pepper and salt plus some onion powder and ground mustard if you’re feeling a little wacky.

I am pretty sure I would put cheese sauce on anything and everything, which is why I wonly make it for mac & cheese.  I am incapable of controlling myself.  I’ve never made cheese fondue or gone to a fondue restaurant because I know I would eat the whole cauldron myself.  Cheese Eatin’ Problems!

Once the rinds are blended in, I usually add in as much cheddar as necessary to make enough sauce, using milk along the way to match the consistency I am looking for.  All told, I think I use 4-5 cups of shredded cheese or around a pound of cheese per pound of dry pasta.  I have no basis for those general measurements, but they sound right.

With the cheese sauce ready to go, preheat the oven to 350F and put 3/4 of the partially cooked pasta in a bowl along with the reserved other ingredients.  The goal is to avoid having too much or too little cheese sauce so I try to make sure there is enough cheese sauce before adding in the rest of the pasta.

You can make the prosciutto and pea mac or the mushroom mac, or just cook every possible ingredient in your fridge and dump it all into the mixing bowl.  I even thawed some frozen peas that are hiding in there somewhere.  Also, contrary to my previous caption, I despise the whole Jersey Shore “____ ____ Problems!!!” spoof

Once the cheese sauce is fully stirred in and you have the pasta/cheese proportion right, I dump it all into a 9×13 baking dish and level it out.

If I remember correctly, I under-cheesed this one.  Had it right, then haphazardly added in the last of the macaroni.  I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and under-cheesing is a little better because it’s ends up like a good baked pasta that you can add some parm to.  Nobody who reads this blog or has seen me with my shirt off expected me to be in favor of under-cheesing

The mac is ready for the oven like this, but if I have some panko breadcrumbs a good sprinkling over the top always make the meal a few percents better.  Just one, maybe two percents better.  Pandering to the Pumping Iron documentary fans with that spoof!

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the top is usually browned and the bottom is bubbling.  Which means it’s ready for eating.

Yeah, definitely the one I under-cheesed.  I’m sure I ate the living sh*t out of it with a sprinkling of parm and a drizzle of olive oil

I’m not going to wrap up this blog the way I normally would by explaining how the mac tasted since I’m guessing you’ve all had homemade mac and cheese.  On the other hand, I recommend that if you are using an aged and funky cheese rind, definitely consider complimenting with some mixed mushrooms and truffle salt.  So freaking good, just a lot of earthy, umami-type flavors all mixing together and separating it from a normal mac.

But if you also have salty crispy browned prosciutto shank, you can push it into a whole new world of deliciousness.  Mostly I’d just recommend trying anything, since it’s bound to at least be edible since you’re combining a bunch of good things.

Still don’t have my grill, it’s going to be a game changer whenever it arrives.  I also need to figure out where to hang the meat that is curing in my fridge sometime in the next week and I have a sinking suspicion it’s going to be inside a cardboard box in my basement since I don’t know how to use real men tools.  Food Blogger Problems!!!

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Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Pizza

Prior to meeting Kristi, I had only eaten venison a few times in my life but enjoyed it every time.  Kristi’s extended family lives in Vermont and they are active hunters during deer season which has led to a lot more venison meals for me in recent years.  My favorite was last year when I visited the family deer camp for a great meal, some beers, and cards.  Although I was relegated to observer status, a fresh leg of venison was butchered, sauteed in butter with onions and served with potatoes.  Simple and delicious.

I’ve wanted to experiment with cooking venison on my own but it’s always overpriced, if you can find it, and I generally lack the man skills required to get my own through hunting.  However, my brother John recently allowed an acquaintance to hunt on his property which led to a windfall of deer meat.  I picked up about 10-15 pounds of a variety of cuts this past weekend and immediately started imagining new ways to use it.  You’re likely to see a fair amount of venison dishes on this blog in the next few months.

Up first, a pizza (in annoying restaurant terms, a flatbread) that would incorporate the flavors from the meal at deer camp and add a few elements.

When I went to load the venison meat into the freezer, I noticed that we still hadn’t used a package of sliced leg meat that Net (Kristi’s grandmother) gave us a few months ago.  Decided to use that first.

Deer meat gets very dark on the outside when frozen but is a shade of bright purple on the inside when raw

Venison is very lean and almost completely devoid of intramuscular fat.  Hence the need to quickly cook in butter or oil to avoid the meat becoming too chewy.  The other key ingredients for this pizza were onion, garlic, potatoes, and mushrooms.

The obligatory ingredient shot. I know these are a little unnecessary but more photos make the post seem more substantial

The potatoes were quartered and went into a pot of boiling water with the chopped garlic and a good amount of salt.  The mushrooms were also sliced, thrown into a hot pan and cooked until they browned a bit on one side.  I then added a healthy pour of red wine.

I love doing this with mushrooms. They suck up the red wine flavor and compliment meat so well

My thought was that the rich meaty flavor of venison would go well with some of the flavors that come from cooking with red wine.  When the mushrooms were done, a fresh skillet went on the burner with some olive oil and a chopped onion.

Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I despised onions in all forms until I was in my 20s. Now, I rarely cook without them. I used to think they tasted and smelled like B.O. Not sure if my newfound love is related to me wearing deoderant more regularly

While those were cooking, the potatoes and garlic were strained and put into a bowl with milk, Brummel & Brown spread, salt and pepper to be mashed.  I mashed, stirred, and repeated a few times.  I was looking for a very smooth and creamy texture.

Look, if you're not mashing your potatoes with the skin on, you really don't know what you're missing. Thats where the flavor is! Plus, it's more pleasing to the eye than the bleached-white mashed you expect from a cafeteria

Once the onions had picked up a little caramelized brown color and turned translucent, I hit them with a splash of red wine as well.

Still a little crunchy, but will be fully cooked once the pizza is done baking

The onions were removed from the pan and a tablespoon of butter went in.  This was a trick learned from deer camp; the onion juices are pulled from the pan by the butter and flavor the venison.  The slices went into the hot butter for a minute or so on each side.

Not trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about, but you can tell you're cooking game meat at this point. The smell isn't as sterile and bland as beef, pork and chicken; its got a stronger but appetizing aroma

Once cooked, I let the meat rest and sliced it into the bite sized portions you would want on a pizza.

I was hoping to cook it rare but its tough with thin strips like this. Also, want to know why I am always holding the food when I take a picture in my apartment? Because there is no effing light! Everything looks yellow and awful if I don't hold it up under the hood

Earlier in the day, I hit up Randazzos for some raw dough.  It’s a local subpar pizza shop that ruins delicious crust with awful sauce and toppings.

$3. I know it's just water, yeast and flour but it's totally worth it

Did the usual, stretchcd it out by hand and placed it on a greased cookie sheet.  First layer to go on was a thin spreading of the mashed skin-on potatoes and garlic.

I know that it doesn't sound right, but if you've ever enjoyed white pizza it should look right to you. Also, see that yellow tint I was complaining about?

Next layer consisted of the red wine flavored onions and mushrooms as well as the venison.

I've done it a few times, but it always feels weird making a pizza without cheese. Makes you want to call it a flatbread. But I associate that term with the Alchemist in JP and every other crappy bar/restaurant that claims its garbage bar food is American "gastro pub" fare

While the oven preheated to 450°, I added a bunch of dollops of mashed potato to the top of the pizza; similar to the blobs of ricotta that dot a well-made white pizza.  The crust was brushed with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt, a surefire way to make the crust of any pizza delicious.

A 450 degree oven in a small apartment leads to me sweating and Kristi shedding one of the fifteen blankets she is generally covered with

10-12 minutes later, the crust is golden brown and the tops of the potato blobs have browned a bit too.  Time to come out.

I know I say this a lot: I don't make pretty food, but you knew this would be delicious once you saw it come out of the oven

Slice it up and we were ready to eat.

I forgot how I used to slice my rectangular pizzas when cutting this one. It needs two horizontal slices instead of one. Write that down

The venison was a little chewier than I would hope, too long in the freezer and cooking it twice hurt it.  However, the flavors from the onions and mushrooms combined with slightly irony meat and creamy potatoes on a crispy crust was a very enjoyable combination.  Had the rich flavors I remembered and the ones I wanted to add.

Next week has a few possibilities, now I need to get back to focusing on my mustache fundraising.  For those who don’t know, I am growing a mustache during the month of November as part of the Movember charity that helps raise money for prostate cancer research.  A brief overview of my mustache experience can be found here and here’s the link to my donation page.  Thanks again for the support!