Finding Comfort in Gluten-Free Beer Macaroni and Cheese

What chefs can do when it comes to getting the word out is have people understand food differently. If food is well sourced and well Beer Mac and Cheese 7prepared, I don’t think the word healthy needs to be brought into it. It’s healthy because it’s wholesome. That’s what we should focus on. You can buy a box of low-fat macaroni and cheese made with powdered nonsense. I’m not worried if I’m using four different cheeses and it’s high in fat. It’s real food. That’s what’s more important. (Chef Tom Colicchio, qtd by Tara Parker Pope, “Even Top Chefs Have Picky Kids,” N Y Times, 9 February 2009)

MACROWS [1]. XX.IIII. XII.

Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on peces, and cast hem on boillyng water & seeþ it wele. take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth. (Samuel Pegge, The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery (1780) “Compiled about A D 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II,” Project Gutenberg generated HTML e-book)

The dog in the picture below is our 91 lb Great Pyrenees – Anatolian shepherd mix Cleo.

Cleo 2

Cleo is perhaps the world’s best watch dog. She’s so devotedly protective that (to the dismay of many) she sometimes tries to protect me even from people of whom I am rather fond, such as relatives and friends who visit our home. Perhaps because of this strong genetic protective characteristic common to her mix of breeds, Cleo dislikes loud noises and quick, sudden movements; she responds unhappily to the excited or emotional tones of voice and dramatic hand gestures that sometimes accompany human conversation and interactions. For this reason, Cleo vehemently dislikes being in the same room with us when we watch Longhorn football games on television. Our emotional responses, aroused by the twists and turns as the games progress, simply make her too nervous.

Luckily for Cleo, Phillip and I watched the recent Alamo Bowl pigskin contest between the Texas Longhorns and the Oregon Ducks at my mom’s house. Thus, our beloved, giant hyper-vigilant pet was spared the anguished cries of disbelief and the stream of blue language that erupted and over-flowed deep from the diaphragms of those who gathered to watch what they had hoped would be their beloved Longhorns’ triumphant and redeeming finish to a disappointing 2013 football season. Fan loyalty and collective team player and coaching talent aside, one would just naturally expect a team called the Longhorns to easily defeat a team called the Ducks; alas, the obvious escaped reality this past December 30th, as the Ducks annihilated the Longhorns in a 30 to 7 win in the 2014 Alamo Bowl competition.

Beer Mac and Cheese 3At disheartening moments such as this, people turn to comfort food for real solace, indeed. Delicious football-watching type food was plentiful in my mom’s living room that fateful evening on which once again, Texans lost an epic battle at a location in San Antonio named the Alamo. Food and beer flowed freely that evening, and even the horrendous Longhorn defeat failed to curb appetites (though admittedly the drinking surpassed the eating in quantity the latter part of the game). My contribution to the football-watching fare was one of my own favorite comfort foods: gluten-free beer macaroni and cheese. Although I am not fond of beer as a beverage, and therefore never drink it, I absolutely love and enjoy beer-flavored foods (such as beer mac and cheese, beer bread, beer-cheese soup, etc).

Macaroni and cheese is a curious dish. It has a long history, and more than just centuries separate the mac and cheese of Chef Colicchio’s making from that of King Richard II’s master cooks in the quotes above. Macaroni and cheese can be as simple and simple a dish as one in which melted butter and parmesan cheese is stirred into cook pasta, or as rich a dish as one in which a variety of cheeses are melted into a roux-based sauce, then mixed into cooked pasta and baked into a dreamy, creamy mess of cheesy magic.

Beer Mac and Cheese 8

Although the dish has its roots in Europe, macaroni and cheese has become a standard and popular pasta dish. American food historians often credit Thomas Jefferson with having introduced macaroni and cheese to America; however, the official website of Jefferson’s Monticello home informs us, regarding this pasta dish, that “Jefferson was most likely not the first to introduce macaroni (with or without cheese) to America, nor did he invent the recipe. The most that could be said is that he probably helped to popularize it by serving it to dinner guests during his presidency.” This simple dish has obviously seen better times and worse, from being a casserole of pasta combined with real cheese and butter eaten by heads of state at presidential dinners, to being a dish of pasta mixed with artificial powdered cheese and margarine eaten as a budget-stretched families and students.

Macaroni and cheese is now cycling upward again and regaining culinary status. Those of us who delight and indulge in this common pasta dish need make no apology for our mac and cheese proclivity. It now merits restaurants solely devoted to variations of the cheesy dish, and even appears on menus in up-scale restaurants these days. So popular is this particular comfort food that several varieties of frozen gluten-free macaroni and cheese are widely available in grocery stores. I prefer to make my mac and cheese from scratch; however, on occasion I’ve purchased frozen gluten-free macaroni and cheese. On a recent trip out of town, I purchased Trader Joe’s gluten-free macaroni and cheese. It’s made with white cheddar and Monterrey jack cheeses, and it looks delicious on the package. At $2.99, this gluten-free mac and cheese is also quite a bargain. Sadly, the product was of such poor quality that I ended up throwing half of it away. I cooked the mac and cheese exactly according to package instructions, yet the pasta was raw. I used this particular microwave to cook other items and it cooked them sufficiently; clearly the problem lay with the mac and cheese, not the microwave oven. In the past I’ve eaten Amy’s and Glutino frozen gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and although I don’t make a habit of eating these frozen dishes, I can say the pasta of each brand is sufficiently cooked by the time the dishes come out of the microwave. As an aside, I have to say that one brand of frozen gluten-free mac and cheese that greatly piques my interest is Beechers “World’s Best” Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese. At a cost of $14.99 (at the HEB Central Markets in Austin and San Antonio) for a product that claims to serve only 2-4 people, I’m not likely to satisfy my curiosity concerning the quality of this particular prepared gluten-free mac and cheese any time soon. (If anyone has actually tasted Beecher’s “World’s Best” frozen gluten-free macaroni and cheese, please comment and let the rest of us know whether this mac and cheese is worth the cost of the purchase.)

Fortunately, delicious macaroni and cheese is very easy to make from scratch. The beer mac and cheese I make is so delectable that people who can eat gluten favor it over other macaroni and cheese dishes they’ve tasted. Although any brand of gluten-free beer with work for gluten-free beer mac and cheese, I prefer to use Green’s Endeavor Dubbel Ale. It has a full flavor that complements and enhances the cheese flavor in the dish. To arrive at this particular recipe, I modified a recipe for beer macaroni and cheese I found on the Food Network website.

Beer Mac and Cheese 6

Gluten-Free Beer Macaroni and Cheese

12 oz gluten-free macaroni or other short pasta noodles
¼ cup + 2 tbls rice flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
12 oz room-temperature gluten-free beer (such as Green’s Endeavor Dubbel Ale or Bard’s)
3 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded havarti cheese
1 cup shredded chipotle cheddar cheese
Tabasco sauce
Paprika

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

-Generously butter a 2 qt baking dish.

-Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente.

-Heat, but do not boil, the milk. Add the room-temperature gluten-free beer to the milk.

-Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.

-Whisk in the flour and cook for about two minutes, whisking constantly to prevent burning.

-Whisk in the milk / beer mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened and bubbly.

– Stir in 2 ½ cups of the cheddar cheese. Add the havarti and chipotle cheddar cheeses. Stir until
sauce is smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add enough milk to make it the desired consistency.

-Add several drops of Tabasco sauce (add according to taste – I add enough to give a little kick,
but not enough to knock someone over)

-Stir in the pasta and mix until all the pasta noodles are well-coated with cheese sauce.

-Sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup of cheddar cheese over the top of the pasta.

-Sprinkle cheese with Paprika

-Bake until the pasta is hot and the cheese on top is melted.

Beer Mac and Cheese 2

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