12 February 2009

London Broil with Mac'n'cheese

Mac and cheese. How something so simple (take macaroni, mix with cheese) can be so good is beyond me. Making it more complicated (take macaroni, mix with cheese, add something else) often seems to make it better and adding multiple kinds of cheeses is just plain genius. This is a far cry from Kraft's version of the mac and cheese and while not being extremely unhealthy, it's full of saturated fat and the pasta itself is just simple carbs. But it's so damned good!

I served it with a piece of London broil which was more tender than I had expected, and that made me happy. Steak served medium rare (well, the center of the center was more rare than anything), I'll explain how I cooked it in the recipe as well.

Credit where credit is due: Jacquie saw a show on Food Network called "Barefoot Contessa" that featured this recipe. It's been slightly modified from its original version.

Mac and Cheese with a London Broil

4 oz thick-sliced bacon (roughly 4 large slices)
2 cups macaroni (farfalle, shells, penne, elbow...your pick - I used shells)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
4 oz Gruyere cheese
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese
2 oz blue cheese
2 slices white sandwich bread
10 fresh basil leaves
kosher salt
olive oil
black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Start by heating your oven to 400 degrees F. I refuse to use the term "preheat" - to quote George Carlin - "there are only two states an oven can possibly exist in: heated or unheated. Preheated is a meaningless term." Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, heat a large frying pan (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Add the bacon, fry until crisp. Remove from the heat and place the bacon on a plate, covered with paper towels. Leave until cold and crumble into small pieces once cooled enough (I generally use kitchen shears for this if it doesn't crumble easily enough, something some people think is weird).

Add the macaroni to the boiling water together with about a tablespoon of kosher salt and a dash of olive oil. Cook the macaroni according to direction - we're looking for al dente, so if it says "10-11 minutes", I'd say try a piece after 9 minutes. If it's slightly chewy but doesn't leave that "dry pasta" taste in your mouth, you've got al dente. Anything beyond will be soggy and that just won't fly. Once the pasta is done, drain in a colander and set aside.

While the pasta is boiling, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Do not let the milk boil! At the same time, melt the butter in a medium pot over medium low heat and add the flour once it has melted. Stir constantly with a whisk after adding the flour. Do not burn this mix (called a roux, hey, you're making something with a French name!), but let it get a little color or the flour taste will linger. This should take about two minutes. Once the flour reaches the desired color (hint: not black and smokey), add the milk. I usually raise the heat to medium at this point, or this will take all night - and don't forget to turn off the burner you used to heat the milk (unless you used a microwave, which I didn't tell you that you could do earlier).

Once the sauce is smooth and thick, after about 2-3 minutes, take the sauce off of the heat. This is where I stop using a whisk and start using a large plastic spoon to stir with because cleaning chunks of cheese off a whisk is really not my favorite activity. Again, off the heat, add the (grated) Gruyere, (grated) cheddar and (crumbled) blue cheese. Also, add about a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Get a pinch of nutmeg in there while you're at it and stir, stir, stir. Taste the sauce - add more salt/pepper/nutmeg if you feel it's needed. Once the cheese is incorporated and the sauce is once again smooth, add all the macaroni and the bacon to the mixture.

Now, you have two options. You can put this mixture into individual (oven-safe) bowls or you can put it in one larger (oven-safe) dish. I opted for the latter, since I wasn't throwing a fancy dinner party and the leftovers are easier to keep in one dish rather than a few. I also don't have smaller, oven-safe dishes at this time, so that may have had a small influence on my decision.

At this time, you can cover the bowls with tin foil or plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge. Leave it overnight or even a couple of days - just make sure it's adequately covered up so it doesn't go bad. If you're having people over, making this in the morning and just heating it when it's time for the main course is a pretty awesome concept.

Once you've placed the mac/cheese/bacon mixture in a bowl, it's time to bring out the food processor. Put the bread in the bowl, attach the knife and close the lid. Pulse a few times - we're looking for relatively large piceces of bread still left. Next, pull about 10 basil leaves off their stems and add to the processor. Pulse another few times, until the bread is well crumbled and the basil has been chopped up. Now, cover the macaroni mixture with bread. Bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes. If the bread appears to get too dark too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil to prevent burning. Enjoy with your favorite protein source - steak is naturally the best choice.

What I generally do is as follows: heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Place your cast iron pan over relatively high heat (I do 7 or 8 of 10 on my stove). Add canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point.

Make sure your steak is at room temperature. If it's a big piece of meat like a London broil, remove it from the fridge
at least 30 minutes before cooking. Pat it dry with paper towels. Feel free to salt and pepper now. No, it's not going to "dry out" your steak. Trust me.

Now, once your pan is nice and hot, put the steak in there. Don't touch it for a minute. I said do not touch it. If it's a thick steak, you may want to also sear the sides for about 30 seconds each. Next, flip it over and put the cast iron pan in the oven. I repeat "cast iron pan" here because if you put a teflon pan or a pan with a plastic handle in the oven...you'll end up with a potentially toxic steak and a ruined pan.

Leave the steak in there for about 5 minutes for medium rare. If it's a thick steak, you may need 10 minutes. It may get smokey, so if you have a smoke detector in the kitchen (like me), prepare to push a button on it or wave at it with a kitchen towel. After the 5 minutes are up, remove the pan from the oven (use oven gloves and continue to do so for the next 30 minutes if you handle the pan - this thing stays hot for a while!) and put the steak on a carving board. Cover loosely with tin foil. Leave the steak for at least 3 minutes, preferably more. If you cut into it now, you know all those lovely juices that make the steak so nice and juicy and wonderful? All over your carving board and counter is not where you want them and that's where they'll end up.

Once rested, carve the steak. If the mac and cheese has cooled down, you can put the dish(es) in the recently turned-off oven for a few minutes to reheat.


  1. In addition to your blog I read the "Al Dente" blog, and just two days ago they also had an article for preparing steak that's similar to yours. Small world. I will give this a try soon.

  2. Arf, London Broil, i haven't had it in ages. Juicy pink/red goodness

  3. Looks nice :)

    Incidentally, I always take "preheat" to simply mean that you're heating the oven *before*, sort of like a contraction of pre-food-insertion-heating. It's not really defining a new state for an oven to be in I feel :)

  4. No, I know, I just think it's a funny quote :)

  5. Carlin is absolutely right! "Preheated" like "preboarding" is a contentless and therefore useless term.

    If I tell you to "put the food into the heated oven" this already means the oven must be heated before the food is inserted.

    Coincidentally, what would "prepreheated" mean? Heated before preheated, or preheated before heated?

  6. @Dag

    You could say this, but then, you might have forgotten to turn the oven on, so you need to wait 15 minutes or so before you can stick the dish inside while the oven heats up. Asking someone to pre-heat the oven implies that they should remember to do this before (pre) preparing the food.

    I would take prepreheated to mean "off" :D

    Like, he cleaned the prepreheated oven.

    Incidentally, I strongly believe now, after consideration that an oven can indeed have at least 5 states:

    Heating up
    Heated / On (Fully)
    Cooling down
    Dead (That's after you smash a brick into the element)

    But that's just irrespective. I think we should concentrate more on looking at the yummy food instead of debating oven states :p