All About Mac And Cheese

What did foodie president Thomas Jefferson start? After discovering a cheesy, rich pasta dish in France. he brought it back in the early 1800s and introduced his dinner guests to a delicious new concoction loaded with rich cream, cheddar cheese and baked to a bubbly, crusty perfection. The latest from France, he undoubtedly proclaimed, along with his other creations including ice cream, french fried potatoes, fine wines and exotic fruits and vegetables, all whipped up at his estate kitchen by his French-trained chef (not to mention at the White House), and Colonial foodies dug in. For Southerners, homemade mac and cheese casserole has always been a staple on holiday dinner tables.

Once commercial production began, Kraft Foods harnessed its great potential by mass-producing and boxing it up for busy mothers and hungry children, putting it on the map during the Depression, in 1937. While many cooks still preferred to make it from scratch, it created quite a stir in packaged foods, right up there with sliced white bread and Toll House cookies. In spite of a former First Lady’s campaign maligning it, boxed mac and cheese is a pantry staple.

No question, it has come a long way, and some of its newest versions are just plain outrageous. Seems each restaurant and chef wants to outdo the others, and while perhaps some (maybe) delicious variations, the new combinations could qualify as just plain bizarre. Here is a list of current popular creations:

Mac and cheese bagels (actually baked into the dough) from Einstein Bros.Bagels

Mac and cheese balls, breaded and deep fried for a new experience in hors d’oeurves (Trader Joe’s are especially good)

Pizza topped with mac and cheese is showing up at several major chains

Hamburgers topped or stuffed with mac and cheese

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Mac and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Meatball-stuffed sandwich sliders

Mexican foods (quesadillas, burritos and enchiladas) stuffed with M&C

Hot Dogs topped off with M&C (hold the ketchup)

Rich homemade baked M&C casserole with lobster (and a very hefty price)

Mac and cheese topped with white truffles

Of course, driving up the cost and (sometimes) the taste level, any cheese can be used, including Gruyere (Martha Stewart’s favorite which will run you about $30/pound, but hey, it’s Martha Stewart) and blue cheese, which adds an interesting and new taste for this classic dish, rather than traditional cheddar and Velveeta. Maybe a chunk of butter and some sour cream to up the calories.

And at one L.A. restaurant, truffle oil and a splash of white wine is added for the bargain price of $95 per serving (you read that right). Yikes.

In other words, just about anything you can dream up, you can do with your basic mac and cheese, so get creative if the spirit moves you. But for you purists, nothing beats the creamy goodness of macaroni, rich cheddar cheese sauce and buttery crumb topping baked to gooey perfection in the oven. It may be all grown up, but no doubt about it. Some things are better just left alone.

 

Tips To Spill the Beans

We are clearly full of beans. In the U.S. alone, we consume about 8 pounds of beans annually, per capita, and the current popularity of Mexican cuisine plays no small part. The U.S. plants about 1.6 million acres a year. Worldwide production of dry beans was over 18 million metric tons in 2016, the leading producers are Myanmar (Burma), India and Brazil.

China loves their soybeans (edamame) and mung beans, the Middle East grinds garbanzos for hummus and tahini, Mexico serves up refried pinto and black beans, Italy makes their trademark minestrone with cannellini and red kidney beans, and the U.S. favors them baked, or cajun red beans and rice. While once considered an inferior food, beans are held in high favor globally. Nothing beats a hot bowl of navy bean soup, a tasty hummus spread on pita bread, a side of baked beans with barbecue or hot dogs, a dish of buttered limas with ham, or a big spicy bowl of chili.

Domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, dating back to around the second millennium BC. For centuries, they were a staple. They could be dried and carried on ships, they lasted through a long cold winter, they could be soaked or boiled easily and they filled empty stomachs. Beans are one of the earliest cultivated plants, providing an important source of protein and nutrients throughout Old and New World history.

Fava beans were a major source of food for the ancient Israelites and are still eaten primarily in Mediterranean countries. Old Testament civilizations such as Jericho and Babylon consumed them daily. The Aztecs and Incas grew and ate beans as a major part of their diet. Other South American countries thrived on them from the seventh century BC. They were also used as counting tools and money, and appeared symbolically at weddings. Asia has eaten them for centuries, and Egyptians included them in tombs to insure voyage to the afterlife.

Italian Renaissance gourmet Bartholomew Scappi described dishes of beans, eggs, cinnamon, walnuts, sugar, onions and butter in his cookbooks. Catherine d’ Medici of Florence was supposedly so fond of Italy’s cannellini beans, she smuggled some to France when she married Henry, Duke of Orleans, later to become King Henry II of France. (You know those French chefs–beans were considered beneath them.) If this story is accurate, we can thank Queen Catherine for cassoulet, a French delicacy made with goose fat, duck or lamb and white beans. (When the Queen wanted beans, her French chefs jumped.)

During the 9th century, Charlemagne (King Charles I) restored productivity to European lands which had been ravaged by war, ordering chickpeas to become a major crop which helped prevent starvation in his vast kingdom,

Early American colonists cultivated multiple varieties. They were used in soups and stews and could be dried to help feed large families throughout the winter, when food was scarce. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed many different types of beans from his abundant garden, experimenting with different varieties and creating new recipes for his dinner guests. (Well, okay, our foodie president didn’t actually cook, but he supervised his French-trained chef.)

In the early 1900s, a man named Henry J Heinz put canned baked beans on the map, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Today, Heinz baked beans is one of the most recognizable and popular canned foods on the grocery shelves. Surprisingly, the top bean eaters in the world are the U.K. countries. Worldwide, a whopping 2 million people consume baked beans daily.

What’s more American than franks and beans? Or chili? Or navy bean soup? So cook some up and enjoy.