Comfort Food: Mac and Cheese

1.27.11 § 23 Comments

You know lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time being sad, which is to be expected, considering what’s been going on in my life. On top of that, the snow and slushy weather isn’t helping much. What was that you said about seasonal affective disorder?

New York City this morning.

Fortunately, I’ve figured out how to keep myself happy, at least part of the time: comfort food. For me, the idea of “comfort food” has lately come to mean so much more than food that warms you up and fortifies you to face this kind of cold. The more important meaning, at least for the moment, is the comfort I’ve found in the preparation.


I get lost so easily in the rhythms of the kitchen: washing fresh vegetables, dicing onions, grating big blocks of cheese into messy piles and then scooping up the stray strands, popping them into my mouth like I don’t want anyone to notice…even though I’m alone. Those rituals I have in the kitchen are quickly becoming sacred to me, a refuge from the storm, so to speak.


To add to that, I’ve also been giving into small indulgences lately: caramelizing onions in a scoop of newly purchased duck fat instead of butter, buying the slightly more expensive but definitely better tasting cheese, and then using just a bit more than the recipe calls for. Actually, if we’re being completely honest, I always add extra cheese.

And you know what? It’s making me feel better. So for now, I’m going to stick with it. I’m also starting to take hot yoga classes to balance out those “indulgences.” (I bought a 30-class card, which is basically the equivalent of forcing myself to do something active. As in, I can’t stand to waste the money, so I know I’ll go to class. Whatever works. Right?) Regardless, I’m working really hard to find some kind of balance, since the equilibrium of my universe has been a bit off lately.

But seriously, what’s better after a good workout than a huge bowl of macaroni and cheese? And if sometimes there is so much snow on the ground that you skip yoga, that’s okay too. Right? Just say yes.

Artisanal Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from SAVEUR

1 large yellow onion, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
12 oz. hollow pasta, such as penne
8 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko
1 cup freshly grated parmesan (about 1 oz)
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk (not skim)
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere (about 4 oz)
1 1/2 cups grated Comté or Cantal (about 4 oz)
1 1/2 cups grated fontina (about 4 oz)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

First, begin to caramelize the onions. (I diced the onions and started them before I even grated my cheese.) Melt your fat of choice (probably butter, although in this instance, I used 2 tbsp duck fat instead of butter, just because I could) in a medium skillet. Place the onion in the skillet and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes to sweat the onions. Remove lid and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook your pasta until not quite al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the panko and parmesan, stir to mix. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Wipe out the saucepan and put it over medium heat. Melt the last 3 tbsp of butter and whisk in your flour until smooth. Now whisk in the milk, cooking and whisking often until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Stir in all of the Gruyere, 1 cup of the Comté, and 1 cup of fontina. Whisk until cheese is melted and incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from heat and stir in your pasta. Pour the mixture into a 2 quart baking dish and top with the remaining Comté and fontina. Sprinkle the panko-parmesan mixture over the top.

Place the baking dish on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and put in the oven. (Mine ran over, so I definitely recommend putting something under your baking dish.) Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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§ 23 Responses to Comfort Food: Mac and Cheese

  • renie says:

    Tyla, While we haven’t had the cold and snow you have (65 degrees and no moisture for months…), I too, crave comfort food in the dark winter months. My fav? Yep, you guessed it, mac & cheese! I can’t wait to try this recipe and then go to MY yoga class at the local community college. That and cycling. Outside. In the warm air. Keep cooking and writing! I’m so proud of you! Renie

  • Jesse says:

    YUM. This is great and the pictures make me want to go cook. I love this kind of down-home cooking–not at all “city.” I really get it, you know? It’s something I think is just in my bones, something I really understand. Miss you and saveur already!

  • Jessica Kemp says:

    This looks absolutely amazing! I think I have a new mission tomorrow 🙂
    Great blog, too!

  • marlzipan says:

    Hi! I just stumbled upon your blog. You are such a great inspiration…and writer! I too, was laid off, and am trying to figure out what the heck I want to do. Like you, I have recently turned to blogging about food! Just wanted to say thank you and I look forward to future posts 🙂
    http://www.jerseyfoodblog.wordpress.com

  • Sofia says:

    i am all about the hot yoga + indulgent food combination. it works well for me and my over-the-top eating habits!

    great pic up top there, by the way. keep on bloggin’ on. i’m happy you’re back 🙂

  • Mila M. says:

    I came across your blog while exploring on the wordpress tag page, and I loved it so much I had to comment. I am brand new to the world of blogging, but my idea for blogging is very similar to yours (intertwining life with passion for food). I really enjoyed reading your posts, your recipes look delicious (i’ll let u know when i try some) and your style of writing is so relatable (i loove hot yoga). I look forward to reading future posts, thank you for sharing!

  • Mary says:

    Hi Tyla,
    This looks delicious! I thought you were going to post the “extra help” version for someone like me. Where do you get duck fat and Cantal? Are these items in stores and I just do no see them? Any help would be most appreciated. I was great to see you last week!

    • Tyla says:

      I totally forgot! I bought all of the cheeses at whole foods. You could probably get them at Amish Market too…just ask someone to help you find them! I bought the duck fat at Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg…not quite sure where else to get it because I’ve never seen it elsewhere, but I will try to find out!

  • I will definitely try this for my girls – they love mac & cheese. The real baked Mac & Cheese is so much better than the box one!

  • jdpence says:

    Hi Tyla! I’m so glad your post about Ginnie was featured on WordPress. After reading your post, I thought to myself, “Self, you are not alone in the world after all!”
    Thanks.

  • Tori Nelson says:

    Nom. Nom. Nom. Seriously, EVERYTHING tastes better with extra cheese 🙂

  • As that ding bat that I love likes to say… YUMMO!

  • Katie says:

    Mac and cheese and hot yoga–an excellent combination and a sure way to alleviate sadness. The two need to be done in tandem, I agree–one is too good for you, one is on the decadent side. Balance. Good plan.
    You mention duck fat in your story but I don’t see it in the recipe. Did you use it in place of the butter called for in the Saveur version? (Also, I saw the issue of Saveur dedicated to mac and cheese and have been wanting to try to the one with Velveeta in it.)
    Katie

    • Katie says:

      Oops, now I see the duckfat…mentioned in the instructions below the ingredients list…

      • Tyla says:

        Glad you found it! I used it for caramelizing the onions. I also recently used it to fry some potatoes, which was pretty amazing as well. It’s basically my new favorite thing.

  • Angela Mears says:

    Tyla, thanks for visiting my site! I watched the video you posted; it was really lovely. A piece of art! Like this mac n cheese. I am hopelessly snowed in today, and could use some of that comfort food….

    Take care =)

  • Joy Pattison says:

    Can’t wait to try the mac n’cheese even if I have to sub on the type of cheese. (no Whole Foods here in your home town as you know….) Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Tyla says:

      If you ever make it to Santa Fe, they have a whole foods. But I do know that is a looong way to go for groceries!

  • Hi Tyla,
    Love your blog! I of course subscribed. I adore mac and cheese. Check out my list of places to get it in and around Manhattan!!
    http://www.yelp.com/list/comfort-food-101-mac-and-cheese-new-york

  • Hello.This article was really interesting, particularly because I was investigating for thoughts on this subject last Tuesday.

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