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Use Your Noodle II - Recap

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Alton’s nephew Elton visits. Alton has entertainment lined up but Elton faces a looming school deadline. Alton offers to help but Elton’s mother has warned him that Alton’s not so good at school projects. Alton asks what ‘his dear sister’ would do and Elton recounts a tale of how she made cookies from around the world for geography class. Alton won’t be outdone by Marsha! He demands to know the topic! Elton reveals that it is “The Founding Fathers.” Eventually the conversation turns to a song: “Yankee Doodle Dandy” that British wags scribbled to ridicule the colonists. In the song the word “macaroni” captured the essence of the upper class twit, a popular pejorative of the eighteenth century. But to Alton it means “macaroni and cheese,” a delicious dish invented at Thomas Jefferson’s home of Monticello.

Alton’s rolling now. He gathers books and supplies on the subject of “macaroni and cheese” comparing it to the history of the founding fathers. Elton’s skeptical but Alton finally drags it out of him: combine history, good ingredients, science, and you get… (Elton’s mother warned him he’d have to say it!) ...Good Eats!

Alton starts with the invention of the dish: a frustrated Jefferson (while drafting the Declaration of Independence) was disappointed to receive a spaghetti maker and not the macaroni maker he’d ordered. So he designed his own macaroni maker. His cook mixed the noodles with a cheese sauce and some New York Cheddar and made the first macaroni and cheese. Elton corrects his uncle: Jefferson couldn’t have invented the dish when he was drafting the Declaration of Independence, as it would be 1807 before Jefferson actually visited Italy. Details, details, says Alton…

Leaving Elton to his studies for a bit, Alton heads to the kitchen store. Ambling its aisles he notes that macaroni and cheese is a true casserole: an amalgam of ingredients, mixed, baked and served in a single vessel. Alton prefers earthenware or glass over metal because metal too often burns the outside of a casserole before the center is done. A heat resistant glass called Pyrex makes excellent dishes. Even better is Corningware, an accidentally discovered form of borosilicate glass that is durable and very heat resistant. As he’s sorting through the offerings “W” appears. Her caustic tips contain more wisdom: prefer round casseroles over square to avoid dry corners, and opaque dishes often looks better at the table because interior scratches cannot be seen.

Back at the pantry, Alton teaches Elton how to find the right noodle. Macaroni refers to pasta made from semolina (a meal made from durum or another high protein wheat) and water. There are no eggs in macaroni. Alton disdains larger shapes such as rigatoni and penne in favor of the elbow.
The compact size of the elbow lets in just enough cheese and its shape encourages interlocking, yielding a compact and sliceable product.

Many fine melting cheeses exist. Alton chooses English cheddar and sends Elton off with a twelve ounce block to grate it.

Elton finally finishes grating and rejoins Alton, who is cooking a half pound of pasta in... an entire gallon of water. Alton tells Elton that pasta needs room to cook; Alton never cooks it in less than a gallon of water, and he uses more if he’s making a lot of pasta. He adds the pasta, brings it back to a boil and cook for just six minutes. The right cooking time yields noodles firm enough to withstand building the casserole. Alton gives the cooked elbows a quick cold rinse to stop the cooking process quickly.

The macaroni and the cheese must be encouraged to join. To do this, Alton starts with a blond roux – a mixture of flour and butter lightly cooked. Elton helps flavors the roux with dry mustard powder, paprika, chopped onions, and a bay leaf. And, of course, kosher salt. Alton stirs the paste while Elton adds milk. Then Alton leaves Elton to the whisking; it will take time to thicken this sauce. After thickening Alton shows Elton how to temper an egg with the hot sauce to keep the egg from curdling and then adds about three quarters of the cheese and the noodles. When that’s mixed Alton tops the casserole with the rest of the cheese and some buttered panko (Japanese) bread crumbs. This will brown to a crunchy crust. The casserole goes in the oven for a half hour to bake.

The final product is delicious, but Elton prefers the kind that comes from a box! Alton is shocked but offers Elton a stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe that’s “fifty times better” than the box if Elton agrees to do the work.

Alton leans through the window and adds eggs; Elton whisks. As the whisking continues, Alton adds evaporated milk, hot sauce (just a little), dry mustard, kosher salt and fresh black pepper. At the stove Elton salts a gallon of water and Alton adds elbow macaroni. When that has cooked Elton drains it and puts it back in the pot; Alton adds butter as Elton stirs. When the butter is stirred in Elton returns to the stove and stirs as Alton adds the egg mixture and ten ounces of shredded cheese. Elton finishes stirring and samples the dish. It, too, is Good Eats!

Later, Elton is reflecting on the “best day he’s ever had.” He toured a refrigerator factory and bowled in the same day! And Alton’s going to cap it by preparing Fried Macaroni and Cheese. That starts with slices of yesterday’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese. Alton dredges them in a mixture of flour and just a little cayenne pepper. Then he coats the slice with egg and finally with Panko bread crumbs. Using a spider, he lowers this into hot peanut oil for just a couple of minutes. Elton proclaims this dish a “heart attack on a plate” but takes several slices. Just about then Marsha appears to collect her son; she discovers that he HAS learned a thing or too – including how to make macaroni and cheese that’s Good Eats and how she can make the stovetop kind without the box. Hemming and hawing, she denies ever using a box. Alton defuses the argument with more fried macaroni and cheese...