Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shepherdess Macaroni and Cheese

January in the Pacific Northwest is cold, wet, dark and gray. One of the bright spots in the month is having lambs. This is Little Big Guy born in October, making him several months older than our other three black lambs born last month. I love everything about having lambs and being their shepherdess.

Every January I make shepherdess-style macaroni and cheese, at our house aka Tamburger or Lamburger Helper. 'Bake until bubbly' is the sort of directions that I am drawn to this time of year, and with several odd bits of various cheeses lying about that should be used up, and ground lamb (and/or goat) in the freezer, this can be made without a trip to the store. The best macaroni and cheese is made from scratch, Comfort Food with a capital C, and the very best is whatever version you (or your mother or grandmother) make, and whatever style that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it. Some like myself, add ground meat and/or chilies, some use the sharpest cheese, one particular cheese, or a blend of several, and some prefer whole wheat pasta instead of semolina. The point being, that if you make a sauce with care for those you love, it will be the best, whatever style you make.

Shepherdess Macaroni and Cheese

Cook al dente 12-16 oz. small shell or elbow pasta

Saute 1/2 -1 lb ground lamb (or goat) and 1/2 onion. Set aside.

In a separate pan
Melt: 4 T. butter (you can use olive oil instead of butter, if you prefer)
Add: 1/3 c. flour
Cook a bit without browning. Stirring well with a gravy whisk or wooden spoon,
Add: 2 1/2 c. milk (whole, 2 %, 1/2 c. of cream as part of measure, if you like), making a smooth sauce.

Stir in:
2 1/2 c. cheese -grated cheddar, a mix of cheddar and Pepper-Jack, diced cream cheese, or whatever you have. I used Edam, Farmstead Gouda and an American style blend this time. I don't measure the cheese, but guesstimate for more or less that amount.

Butter well a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish, and sprinkle with Italian seasoned bread crumbs. Mix drained pasta, cheese sauce, and cooked ground meat together (in whichever pan used that appears able to hold all), then pour into casserole. Sprinkle with more bread crumbs and/or shredded or grated Parmesan cheese. Bake 350 degrees for 20-40 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. I served this with Irish Soda Bread -Comfort with a capital C.

After using up the odd cheeses, I noticed a pint of leftover sliced strawberries in the fridge that I felt should also be used up soon. With sliced rhubarb in the freezer, I had everything needed to make an amazing crumble, which could have very easily baked alongside the mac and cheese -if I'd have thought of that, which I didn't, but it could have.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble is fantastic, a snap to put together, and it disappeared in no time.

Mix together in 8 inch square Pyrex dish:
1 qt. frozen rhubarb, thawed
1 pint sliced sweetened strawberries
1/2 c. sugar, or to taste
3 T. cornstarch

Mix in food processor and spread evenly on top:
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar or brown sugar
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 c. butter
Bake 350 degrees for 25-55 minutes.

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