Sunday 13 February 2011

Macaroni & Cheese: 30 days, 30 ways

I run into the darnedest things surfing around the Internet. I look at the line "30 days and 30 ways with macaroni and cheese" and think to myself, "What!?!" Well, my curiosity piqued, I click on the link and discover a web site, a blog devoted to just that, providing a delicious and innovative way to serve up the ol' standard of macaroni and cheese for 30 days in a row. This sounds like an interesting challenge and I'm sure at first glance anybody is going to be asking themselves, "Why?" when the answer may turn out to be nothing more than, "Why not?" I guess this is sort of the same thing as asking the man why he climbed a mountain and he answers, "Because it's there."

Right off the bat, I note that the web site writes in a sidebar entitled "About Us":

Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Ways a blog brought to you by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. We've collaborated with 30 different food bloggers to create 30 inventive recipes for the classic dish — Macaroni & Cheese.

Check back often — we'll post a brand new recipe each day for a month!

As of this writing, we're at day 24 and the recipe of the day is called "Asiago Fig Macaroni & Cheese" credited to The Avid Appetite. Ah, I get it. To put the site together, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has called upon various entrepreneurial cooks to contribute their creativity to this basic of all dishes. The Milk Marketing Board advertises their product, milk, and the individual cooks advertise their expertise along with a link back to their own web site. It seems that The Avid Appetite is one Rachel from New York who has managed to combine her love for cooking and her love for writing into a wonderful blog dealing with the creation of various culinary delights.

For this dish of day 24, I read Rachel's rendition of the process of coming up with something original with the required ingredients of macaroni and cheese.

When the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board asked me to be a part of the 30 Days 30 Ways Macaroni & Cheese Blog to celebrate National Cheese Lover’s Day, I couldn’t wait to get a little creative with an old standard. There’s something inherently comforting and desirable about macaroni & cheese, don’t you think? I’m not sure if it’s the hearkening back to childhood or the mere richness and creaminess that feels appropriate only on a cold winter day while wearing sweatpants, but offer anyone a dish of warm, decadent macaroni & cheese and find one person to turn it down. It just won’t happen!

When I saw that Asiago was on the list of Wisconsin cheeses, it seemed like a fun flavor change up from what one traditionally thinks of in this classic dish. And once I had Asiago in my pocket, I knew it needed something equally delicious to balance out the sharpness while taking the flavor profile to a whole new level.

Always one for the fruit and cheese combo, it’s no surprise that my flavor hunt led to figs. Not overly sweet, a light fig topping is the perfect balance in this dish. It complements the Asiago while adding an unusual twist!

I have to admit that I have never had figs mixed into such a dish and certainly never would have considered it. Nevertheless, the article provides some photos of the completed dish and I would certainly wonder just what a mixture would taste like. Gosh, does this seem like a promising start to 30 ways of preparing the old standard? I always have to return to that famous line from the comedy troupe Monty Python: "And now for something completely different."

As I look over the other days, I see some very interesting titles:

Day 22: Smoked Gouda Mac ‘N Cheese with Cauliflower and Bacon

Day 6: Easy Brie-zy Mac ‘n Cheese Parfaits

Day 2: Wisconsin Parmesan and Pasta Cacciatore Frittata

Day 17: Butterk√§se Mac ‘N Cheese with Pickled Green Tomatoes

A little history about mac and cheese
It seems as though pasta itself has with us for just about forever. Wikipedia states that the oldest known pasta or noodle-like food comes from China and is 4,000 years old. Macaroni has a history which is difficult to pin down but like the Chinese pasta, it seems to be really, really old.

Macaroni and cheese is mentioned as far back at the 1300's or at least the idea of pasta and cheese. The modern dish as we know it has many stories but I cite the tale that the classic American macaroni and cheese returned with Thomas Jefferson to Virginia after his sojourn in Italy. Jefferson had brought back a pasta machine from Italy. His daughter Mary Randolph became the hostess of his house after Jefferson’s wife died and she is credited with inventing the dish using macaroni and Parmesan cheese. Later, the Parmesan was replaced with cheddar cheese. True or false? Only Kraft may know!

And speaking about Kraft, I would say that you can't utter the expression "macaroni and cheese" without thinking of Kraft Dinner, the ubiquitous and inexpensive meal in a box. As per Wikipedia:

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, known as Kraft Dinner in Canada, is a macaroni and cheese convenience food that requires minimal preparation by the consumer. The original product, a packaged dry macaroni and cheese mix, was introduced in 1937 by the company now known as Kraft Foods.

The timing of the product's launch had much to do with its success. During World War II, rationing of milk and dairy products, and an increased reliance on meatless entrees, created a nearly captive market for the product, which was considered a hearty meal for families. Kraft Dinner is seen as inexpensive, easy to make comfort food, with marketing to highlight its value and convenience. New product lines using different flavors and pasta shapes and increases to shelf life were introduced over the decades.

A "hearty meal" sounds attractive and when coupled with "inexpensive", it seems like a surefire winner. However there are some health concerns:

There are nutritional facts panels on packaged macaroni and cheese such as Kraft Dinner which inform an educated consumer that the product when prepared contains high percentages of ingredients such as saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium which should be limited and low quantities of desirable nutrients such as dietary fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.

Macaroni and cheese is rated low as a food choice for people seeking to lose weight. Due to its low cost relative to other prepared dinners it appeals especially to low-income shoppers, exacerbating concerns about its effect on obesity. Most manufacturers of macaroni and cheese now offer "reduced calorie" options on their packages that allow cooks to omit ingredients that add to the calorie, and in particular, fat level.

Final Word
Mac and cheese: the same old same old? Not quite according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. "30 Days, 30 Ways" deserves some credit for coming up with inventive names for the dishes. Ha! That seems to be a good way of getting our attention. Then again, the photos of each dish do make my mouth water. Mmmm, just what does that one taste like? Time to get out a saucepan and a serving dish and make a decision about which one of these recipes to try out. Bon appetit to any of the readers about to do the same thing. Kraft Dinner never looked so good!


30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese
Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Ways, a blog brought to you by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. For the fourth year, we've collaborated with 30 different food bloggers to create 30 inventive recipes for the classic dish — Macaroni & Cheese.

Wikipedia: Macaroni and cheese
Macaroni and cheese, also called "mac and cheese" in American English, Canadian English, and Australian English; "macaroni pie" in Caribbean English; and "macaroni cheese" in the United Kingdom, and New Zealand; is a dish consisting of cooked elbow macaroni, white sauce, and cheese.

Wikipedia: Kraft Dinner
Kraft Dinner (Canada), known as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Kraft Mac and Cheese in the United States and Australia and Macaroni Cheese or Cheesey Pasta in the United Kingdom, is a packaged dry macaroni and cheese mix. The product was first introduced in 1937 in the United States by the company now known as Kraft Foods. It is now available in several other formulations including Easy Mac, a single-serving designed specifically for cooking in microwaves.


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