– Story and recipes by Chef Heidi Fink Photography by Don Denton
Blustery winter days call for the most comforting of foods: warming bowls of soup, piles of buttery mashed potatoes or melty grilled-cheese sandwiches. Hearty, nourishing and so delicious, comfort foods like these bring feelings of familiarity and satisfaction to the darkest days of the year.
After coming in from a brisk walk in Uplands Park or along the seashore in Oak Bay, I love to warm up the family with a pot of my stovetop macaroni and cheese. Quicker to make than our mothers’ mac and cheese, this has a decadent, silky sauce, thanks to the magic of three different cheeses and a couple of eggs.
The sauce ingredients are prepped while the pasta is cooking and then stirred into the drained and buttered noodles to make something more than the sum of its parts: a very flavourful and rich sauce that no one will know took you less than 10 minutes to make.
I almost always add something extra. My favourite add-in is Red Barn double-smoked bacon, or the wonderful maple-rosemary bacon from Whole Beast, cooked and crumbled into the creamy sauce just before serving.
For a veg-friendly option, try roasted florets of broccoli or cauliflower, always the perfect vegetables to pair with cheese sauce. If there is time, stop at Ottavio’s delicatessen for some gourmet cheese ends to add to your sauce, or some olives and crackers to nibble on while you wait for the meal to cook.
Whatever your comfort food, whether mac and cheese or something entirely different, make sure to enjoy it on as many cosy evenings as you can this winter.
THREE CHEESE STOVETOP MAC & CHEESE
Serves 4 to 8, appetites depending
454 g (1 lb) dry macaroni
10 ml (2 tsp) salt
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
500 ml (2 cups) light cream
1 ml (¼ tsp) Tabasco sauce
1 ml (¼ tsp) salt; more, to taste
1 ml (¼ tsp) ground black pepper
5 ml (1 tsp) dry mustard
10 ml (2 tsp) cornstarch
60 ml (4 Tbsp) butter
114 g (4 oz) block-style cream cheese
114 g (4 oz) mozzarella cheese, grated
284 g (10 oz) sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
454 g (1 lb) bacon, cooked and chopped
454 g (1 lb) vegetables, roasted (broccoli or cauliflower are my favourites)
If using bacon, place bacon slices evenly on a parchment-lined tray and bake in a 350 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until done to your liking. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel. As soon as the bacon is cool enough to touch, place cooked slices on a cutting board and chop.
If using broccoli or cauliflower, chop into medium-sized florets, toss with a bit of oil and salt, place on a parchment-lined tray and bake in a 400 F oven for about 8 minutes (for broccoli) and 15 minutes (for cauliflower) until tender-crisp with some browning around the edges of the florets.
Place 3 litres of water and 2 tsp of salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the macaroni. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked to your preferred firmness.
Meanwhile, mix the eggs, egg yolks, light cream, Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper, mustard powder and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine well. Set aside. Chop the cream cheese into cubes, and get the other two cheeses grated and ready to go.
A few minutes before the pasta is done cooking, heat up the roasted vegetables or cooked bacon, if using. I usually pop them back into the oven on the tray I roasted them on.
Once the pasta has finished cooking to your liking, drain and return to the pot along with the butter. Keep the pot on low heat. Stir to melt the butter. At this point add your heated vegetables (if using) or bacon (if using).
Pour the egg mixture over the buttered noodles and vegetables along with the cubed cream cheese and all of the grated cheese. Stir until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Stir constantly while cooking over low heat, until mixture is hot and creamy and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Serve immediately.
For more recipes and for classes from Chef Heidi Fink, visit her website here.