Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I tossed out most of the recipes.There's no reason to want to cook noodles for 8 hours, unless the whole point is to put the ingredients into the crock pot before you go to work. But even that doesn't make sense to me. Even if you're starting with dry noodles, like for a lasagna recipe, it's only a couple hours - not eight - before those things are cooked through.
I ignored all the recipes that used soup. The person who asked for the recipe specified that he wanted a recipe that used real cheese. That also eliminated Velveeta and American cheese. I decided on cheddar and Swiss.
Finally, I decided that I had to throw out all of the existing recipes and start from scratch. Mac and cheese - if you're not using a box with powdered cheese or a block of Velveeta - can go horribly wrong if you aren't careful. And the better the cheese is, the more likely it is to go wrong. Velveeta melts smoothly, but aged cheddar can get grainy if you overheat it.
Slow cookers are supposed to cook slowly, but they can still get warmer that you need them to be for mac and cheese. You don't want a boil or a simmer. The first few times I tried making mac and cheese in the crockpot, it was fine for a short time, but it wasn't long before it was overheating along the sides, and that was the end of smooth sauce.
If you're cooking in a pot on the stove, the stirring you do distributes the heat and you can adjust the heat. But all that stirring defeats the purpose of using a crockpot. You want to be able to cover it and walk away from it - at least for a little while.
It took some tweaking, but finally I got a recipe I liked. It had good flavor, good texture, and it worked in the crock pot.
One key to getting this to work is to use good-quality noodles. The super-cheap ones can get mushy too fast. Elbow macaroni is traditional for mac and cheese, but you can use other shapes, if you prefer.
Crock Pot Mac and Cheese
8 ounces elbow macaroni
1 can evaporated milk
4 ounces creme fraiche
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces gruyere or emmentaler cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon dry yellow mustard
1/2 cup diced ham (optional)
Milk (optional; if needed)
Cayenne pepper or hot sauce (optional)
Cook the noodles in salted boiling water until barely cooked through.
While the noodles are cooking, put the evaporated milk, creme fraiche, cheeses, salt, pepper, and mustard into the crockpot on high heat, stirring occasionally.
When the noodles are cooked, drain them ad add them to the crockpot, and stir to combine. The heat of the noodles should finish melting the cheese. It will seem a bit soupy, but it will thicken up nicely.Turn the crockpot to the "keep warm" setting, cover, and leave it alone for 45 minutes.
Yes, the "keep warm" setting. It's warm enough without being too warm, and it will finish cooking the noodles gently while thickening the sauce without making it break or curdle.
After 45 minutes, check the consistency. If it's too dry, add milk, as needed. Add the ham, if you're using it. If you prefer a little kick, add a pinch of cayenne pepper or a teaspoon of the hot sauce of your choice. Stir to combine.
Put the cover back on and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Check it after 10 for consistency again, and add milk, if needed. If it's too soupy, let it cook uncovered until it's the consistency you prefer. Keep in mind that it will get a little thicker as it cools.