Thanksgiving is another one of those holidays that I love to celebrate. It obviously holds no real significance for me, since I am not American, nor did I grow up in that culture. The only reason I get excited about this event is because I know there will be someone out there (somebody, ANYBODY!) who would be celebrating with some sort of Thanksgiving dinner. Roasted Turkey (maybe fried, if you’re from the South), Pumpkin Pie, Corn Pudding… every family has their own traditional spread. Any party with some kind of meat carving and complementary high-carb sidings, and I am so there.
Lucky little “food fiend” that I am, my baby sister Foxychef has a catering job coming up which required them to provide Roasted turkey as one of the buffet’s offerings. Her partner, Beersponge, has only prepared a turkey once a while back when he was visiting with an aunt in the States. Not completely confident that they have got this covered, Foxychef decided that they should try to make one for Sunday dinner. Being the loving and supportive older sister, I offered to take part in their little experiment, and even proposed to make a side dish for the turkey.
I racked my brain for a dish that would be easy to prepare and at the same time stay true to the all-American theme. I deduced that nothing could be more “American”- and also well-loved- in our home, than Macaroni and Cheese.
When we were kids, we would stock up on boxes of the stuff and have them for merienda after school. Even on Saturday afternoons at our cousin’s house, if we are not ordering Fettucine with Mushroom Sauce or Beef Stroganoff from Sugarhouse at Annapolis St., we would have their cook open several boxes of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese and we would hungrily feast on the bright orange goo.
Recently, I saw an episode of “Barefoot Contessa” in Lifestyle Network wherein Ina Garten (I love her! Her husband, Jeffrey, is one lucky fool.) has prepared a more grown-up version of Macaroni and Cheese. Good thing that my selective memory picks-up food recipes, so I decide to prepare my own version of the Ina Garten recipe for our turkey dinner.
It is actually quite simple: First, I cook the macaroni (250 grams) in salted boiling water for 7 minutes and then drain. Then, I chop up a good piece of slab bacon (approximately 150 grams)into small chunks and fry it in its own fat until brown and crisp. Set aside.
For the cheese sauce, I make a béchamel by melting half a stick of butter in a sauce pan, then dumping a cup of flour in it. Slowly, I pour in two tetra packs of fresh milk into the mixture, making sure that I stir continuously until smooth.
When the béchamel is ready, dump the grated cheese into the sauce. I used sharp cheddar and gruyere, but I suppose you can use any cheese you like. Preferably something that would melt nicely for that nice, creamy texture.
After the cheese has been nicely integrated into the sauce, mix the cooked macaroni and bacon into the blend.
Place the Macaroni and Cheese into a baking dish and top with thinly-sliced tomatoes.
Finally, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs on top for that nicely-browned and crispy crust. I baked it in 200 degrees Celcius for 20 minutes until the top was nicely browned and the sauce was bubbling. I think this pan could serve around 6 people.
With our fingers crossed, we waited to see how our dinner was going to turn out. The turkey came out darker than expected, but it was still very tender and flavorful. The stuffing of Onions, bread and apples was delicious and was wiped out early on. I advised Foxychef to make more stuffing in a baking dish next time because for sure the one inside the turkey’s cavity would not be enough.
The Baked Macaroni and Cheese was also spot-on. The gruyere has melted nicely and was nice and stringy, while the sharp cheddar gave the dish just the right kick it needed.
For the wine, I thought it would be fitting to pick out a nice American Pinot Noir. I have been searching for a reasonably priced Pinot Noir, since I noticed that a lot of the good ones from California and Oregon are quite pricey. I took a gamble and tried the 2005 Estancia Pinot Noir from their Monterey vineyard, having tried (and loved) their Pinot Grigio a few months back. At P850, it’s much cheaper than the other Pinot Noirs they have in Wine Depot. After letting it breathe for 30 minutes in the glass, the Estancia has nicely opened up, Marachino cherries and red berries right up front, very light tannins, nice and smooth finish. I loved it with the turkey and I could imagine how nicely it would have gone with cranberry sauce, if we only had any.
It was a nice family dinner, enjoyed even by the “turkey-haters” in the bunch. Although it was not an official celebration of Thanksgiving, it made me contemplate on life’s blessings that I should be thankful for: A wacky family that is for sure far from perfect, but continues to be loving and supportive in every way; good friends who make my life crazier but at the same time, much more bearable; and the unconditional love of a man who puts up with my eccentricities and anger management issues.
Life is good. Thank God for that.