If you are going through the blog looking for healthy recipes, you might want to skip this one. This was an experiment that I didn't take very seriously and wasn't planning on sharing on the blog. That is until I tried it. Wow! This is such a delicious dish. Very high in carbs, fat, salt and all the good stuff. Some times you just have to treat yourself.
I bought some aged, smoked Canadian cheddar recently and I was really blown away by how good it was. Canada produces many of the best cheeses (and dairy in general) in the Americas. I couldn't wait to get more of this stuff. You could use any cheddar for this recipe but the complex flavours of the smoked, sharp cheddar are really what made this dish. It was the star ingredient. The first block I bought I ended up just snacking on until it was finished. I wanted to use my second one for a special recipe. I kept thinking about what ingredients go really well with cheddar and I kept going back to beef and broccoli. Eventually the idea for the dish came together.
I was dubious at first about using steak because for flavour and texture you would need to cook it before baking it into the casserole - but how could you ensure that the steak wouldn't be overcooked in the end? There isn't any pinkness in the meat in the final dish, but it was still quite tender. I used a cast iron pan to get a nice sear on the cubes of beef, but they were still quite rare and undercooked inside. They cooked all the way through in the steamy cheese sauce in the oven but I was really pleased with the texture. Please don't go out of the way to use a really top quality steak for this. Something simple from your local grocer will do fine. I ended up using a sirloin steak, but you could use other cuts of beef steak instead. Anything with decent marbling will do well. The sirloin I used was about 8 oz or half a pound. That accounted for 3 or 4 bites of steak per serving. The bigger your steak, the more steak will be in your final dish. So keep that in mind and adjust as you please.
I don't have step by step pictures for this one so you'll have to use your imaginations a little bit. The photos that I took were just with my cell phone. Again, I wasn't originally planning on making this for the blog but I was so blown away by the result I feel that I have to.
Mac and cheese is not a dish I make very often, but when I do, I do it right. What I meant by that is very saucy, cheesy mac. Nothing is a bigger buzz kill than the deceitful sight of glorious mac and cheese and there's hardly any cheese up in there. There's no need to worry about that with this recipe. This mac is the cheesiest!
3 cups of macaroni (uncooked)
2 cups of grated aged, smoked cheddar
2 crowns of broccoli, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 steak, roughly chopped into 1-inch cubes
4 cups of 2% milk, very cold
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat your oven to 350 F/177 C.
Start by cooking the broccoli. You can either blanch them in salted boiling water or steam them in a basket steamer for a couple of minutes and then shock them in an ice bath. This softens them slightly and brings out their green colour but still leaves them perfectly toothsome. Once cooled completely, drain and set aside.
For the pieces of steak, toss them in just enough olive oil to lightly coat them. How much oil you need will depend on the size of your steak. Then toss them in salt and pepper to taste. Use your thickest, heaviest pan or skillet and warm it over medium heat, but give it a few minutes to get very hot. Sear the pieces of steak in batches as not to crowd the pan. Keep an eye on them. You want them to be seared all over but still raw inside. The cooking time will decrease as the process goes on. Aim for an average of 45 seconds a side. Unless your steak is perfectly rectangular you will end up with some pieces that are smaller than others. The smaller pieces will require less cooking time. Use your best judgement. A little bit of browning all over is just right. Then set them aside in a bowl.
Cook 3 cups of macaroni in salted water as per package instructions, but drain them a minute or two before doneness. Try one or two before you drain them. If they seem just undercooked to your liking then that's perfect. They will continue to cook and soften in the sauce.
While the water for the macaroni gets up to boiling, you can start on the sauce. First you'll need to make a roux for a basic béchamel. Melt 1/2 a cup of butter in a saucepan. When it begins to sizzle, add 1/2 a cup of flour and whisk continuously. Continue whisking for a minute. The pasty consistency is called a roux ("roo") and it will turn a rich blonde colour. The minute of cooking is just to cook out the raw flavour of the flour. Try not to go much over a minute or you will begin to compromise the roux's ability to thicken your sauce later. Then add the 4 cups of cold milk in equal installments of 4 or 5. The reason why you want the milk to be very cold is so lumps do not form in your sauce. You may have heard that the milk needs to be warm, and that works too. I just find that it's extra work and creates more dishes to clean.
At first the sauce will be quite runny and not much thicker than the milk was before it went in. Bring the heat up to high and stir frequently. At this point, stir in the cayenne pepper, fresh nutmeg, Dijon mustard then salt and pepper to taste. Don't use too much salt because soon you will be adding the cheese which is quite salty already. You don't want to overdo it. After a few minutes the milk will come to a gentle boil and it will get thicker and thicker. When it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon and when you run your finger through it the channel remains intact, then turn the heat down to low. Immediately add 1.5 cups of your grated smoked cheddar (reserving the remaining half a cup) and stir it into your béchamel sauce. The cheese will melt into the sauce and thicken it further. Keep the sauce on low, stirring often until you're ready to use it.
Add the parboiled macaroni, broccoli and cubes of seared steak (along with any beefy juices that have accumulated) together and stir to throughly combine. Grease a casserole dish and pour the cheesy macaroni mixture. Finally, sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the macaroni, followed by the breadcrumbs. Drizzle a tbsp or two of olive oil over the breadcrumbs to help them brown. Then place in the middle of your preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles up the sides and the panko is golden. If you like, you can turn your broiler on for the last 2 or 3 minutes (keep a watchful eye on it) to get a really nice browning on your panko topping but it's optional. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
That's all there is to it! A fairly standard mac and cheese but the broccoli, steak and smoky cheddar work so well together and really take it to another level. Although this is a slightly grown up version of mac and cheese, most kids will love it too. Comfort food at it's finest.
I hope I've inspired you to try this recipe. Tweak and personalize it to fit your taste and see what you come up with. Everybody loves mac and cheese and new and fun ways to enjoy it. This is just one of many ways to do so.
Until next time,
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