I'm also hugely intimidated by the whole step-by-step photography thing that's basically required these days for recipe blogs. I do work at my photography, but I have no direct sunlight in my kitchen and all that setting up seems...counter to my a pinch of this and a glug of that style in the kitchen.
But enough excuses! This week, I was trying to come up with some fancy pasta to make with all our leftover ham from Easter (I don't actually groove on eating ham as a main course, so we always have loads left over), and Shawn said, "Why don't you just put it in mac and cheese?" Uh yeah, because macaroni and cheese is one of the most delicious things in the Universe! Let's do this!
Macaroni and Cheese with Ham
2 Tb Butter
2 Tb Cornstarch
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1/2 tsp Dry Mustard
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/8 tsp Nutmeg, freshly ground
2 1/2 C Skim Milk
2 1/2 C Shredded Sharp Cheddar*
2 C Elbow Macaroni
1 C Ham, chopped to 1/2 in dice
1/4 C Dry Breadcrumbs
1 Tb Olive Oil
First off, please shred the cheese yourself. Also, if you're wondering why I put the * next to the cheese in the ingredient list, you should know that I almost never make mac and cheese with just one type. Your dairy is your star here, so go all out. But the best quality cheese you can swing. With the ham, I wanted to use mainly cheddar, so it was two kinds of extra sharp white cheddar, plus a little pecorino Romano I had in the fridge that needed to be used up, and I also like to smooth out the sharpness of the cheddar with two slices of good old white American. There is just something about the bland creaminess of American that perfects a cheese sauce. Other good options would be Gouda, emmentaler, Asiago, Monterey Jack, and even a mild Brie. Do your thing! Just make sure you end up with two and a half cups.
I chopped the leftover ham up into a half inch dice, because I wanted the pieces to be about the same size as the macaroni.
Unlike mac and cheese recipes that force you to make a complicated white sauce, this one starts with the butter, cornstarch, and all the spices with the milk, all at once, in a sauce pot. After a nine hour day at work, do I really want to wrestle a temperamental mornay? No, I do not. That's one of the main reasons this recipe is my favorite. Flick the heat on med-high, and just whisk continuously.
Meantime, start another pot for the pasta with lots of water over high heat. Salt the water, generously:
When your milk comes to a boil, continue to whisk it for one minute, the turn off the heat and add two cups of your shredded cheese, whisk that until combined, then throw in the ham and set that aside until your pasta's done.
Add the par-cooked pasta in after you drain it:
Then transfer it to a casserole sprayed with Pam.
Top with the remaining half cup of cheese.
Here's the gangster move that will make your dish spectacular: mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil in a little dish first, and then top the casserole with them for maximum crunchification.
You can make mac and cheese with bacon, caralemized onions, chicken and broccoli, or lobster, but this cheddar and ham version is pretty dang delicous, if I do say so myself. Shawn agreed.