OtterChristmas 1.4-Mac&Pleased

The GrandOtter arrives with menu suggestions. Much of our history was written in the kitchen. Our fondest memories seem to hover close to supper. Since she was little, The Otter has accompanied me on my foraging excursions. Then, she considered a bowl of ramen adequate fare. Now, her palate has broadened considerably. She responds to my pre-trip query about what she eats these days with a fairly narrow list which she quickly expands once she see's what's on offer. Mac and Cheese, "David's way" heads every list.

My way doesn't involve macaroni. Macaroni's fine for macaroni salad, but those little elbows can't seem to properly carry a decent sauce velouté, which I employ in lieu of the more usual milky cheese sauce. Sure, I include plenty of cheese, much more than any self-respecting recipe would call for, but I base it with a decent homemade stock for a more velveteen than Velveeta® mouth feel.

For cheese, I follow my first rule of cooking, which insists that I first use whatever's threatening to fester in the larder. Where cheese is concerned, the rule expands to include some of what's already festering. My cheese drawer always overflows with odd bits and ends, many of which have aged to the point where they've sprouted chin whiskers. Who remembers what they started out as? They're uncommonly ripe now. I scrape off the more suspicious molds and grind away. Those bits too hardened to grind will grace a soup or stew later, but I welcome anything, regardless of heritage, into this grater. Most of the result tends to be cheddar, usually Tillamook, if only for sentimental reasons, and always on the sharper side of the flavor profile. The result stinks, but only in the best possible way.

In lieu of macaroni, I use Cavatappi, a helical tube-shaped pasta with fine ridges on the outside. This stuff, al dente, can stand up to a sauce without overwhelming it. Sauce can insinuate itself into the inside of these tubes, and the edge pasta crisps convincingly when baking. Cavatappi's easier to manage, too. I never end up with escapees all over the countertop or floor. It lies convincingly in the baking pan. I just drain it well, return it to the empty boiling pot, pour the sauce over, stir heartily, then transfer into one of my tortured baking pans, there, to top with way too much grated cheese and, finally, buttered crumbs; Panko, if I have any.

The sauce includes, by tradition, a hefty grating of fresh nutmeg, and a little bit too much cayenne and dry mustard, lest it seem too pedestrian. It wants to be noticed not just as a vehicle for carrying damned cheese. Into a 375 degree oven until it starts browning on the top and sides, then a ten minute rest before it's supper time. The Otter could eat the whole pan full, even though she now knows how fattening it can be. I squirt Sriracha on mine. She does too, now.

This trip, the Mac&Pleased had to wait until the new oven came. It arrived yesterday and this just had to be the maiden supper. It pleased, though it arrived late. We'd trundled down to the German Christmas Market downtown, where The Otter got her first taste of gluwine and gingerbread Santa, The Muse found the the most marvelous Chestnut Truffle Soup, and I took my annual injection of Apfel Strudel Mit Schlag. Returning got complicated by the emergent urgent need to find some beef suet so the mincemeat filling could properly fester for a full three days before being baked into a pie on Christmas Day. The Otter remained sanguine through the detours, having had ample experience starving while sourcing supper. It's kind of a family tradition, now.

Here, in our kitchen, pleasing isn't about placating, but proper preparation. We often slow down the whole concept of slow food, though the results usually seem worth the inconveniences. The Otter understands this. Offered the option to settle for a soda in the gluwine tent, she declined, complaining about the high fructose corn sugars involved. I offered her a taste of my Apfel Gluwine, and her palate simmered in appreciation. I know, I wasn't supposed to even offer her a taste, let alone invite her to finish that last half glass, but how could I resist? After all, I have my reputation as chief corruptor of my grandchild to consider.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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