Hi guys! It’s been a busy few months over here. Last year I officially launched City Cookin’ Classes, teaching many of my most popular dishes from this site, out of my apartment. And it took off! I sold out almost every class I put on the schedule and suddenly I was teaching classes every Saturday and Sunday, in addition to my day job during the week. So I didn’t have much of a chance to share recipes here (or sleep, or see people I’m not related to), but I’m back! And seriously, it’s about time you saw this Blue Smoke recreation I’ve been working on: creamy classic mac and cheese!
Blue Smoke sits on the edge of the Flatiron district and, in a city seriously lacking in good BBQ, it’s a haven for slow roasted brisket, ribs, and some stellar mac and cheese. True to BBQ pit form, you won’t find truffles or gruyere hiding in between these noodles; pull out the Velveeta and elbow macaroni: this is old fashioned and nostalgic and better than you remember.
If you’ve never made macaroni and cheese from scratch before, it’s all about the roux, which is the thickening base that keeps the sauce from being runny. Whisking flour into melted butter and slowly adding milk creates the perfect creamy start for the cheesy sauce.
To keep things interesting, I threw in a bunch of flavor boosters: bay leaves, nutmeg, cloves, and a kick from cayenne and a dash of champagne vinegar. These all give the sauce a bit more depth of flavor, but feel free to play around with different additions or omit a few. Keep tasting the sauce as you simmer the milk and before you combine it with the cheese to make sure it tastes the way you’d like.
Blue Smoke bakes these up in individual cast iron dishes and you can definitely replicate this style at home with whatever size oven proof dishes you have on hand, from ramekins to mini casserole pots. Don’t forget to butter them before filling with mac and cheese and finish the baking in the boiler for the best crunchy, browned top.
- 1 lb macaroni, cooked a few minutes shy of done
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup minced onions
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- pinch nutmeg
- pinch cloves
- splash champagne vinegar (optional)
- 12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
- 12 ounces Velveeta American cheese, grated*
- Melt butter in a medium size pot and sprinkle in flour. Stir so flour is well coated and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- While whisking, gradually pour in milk, whisking until all the lumps disappear.
- Add bay leaves, onion, cayenne, nutmeg, and cloves.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, butter an 8 inch casserole dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Taste milk and add a splash of champagne vinegar. Taste again and season with salt and pepper (and more vinegar, if needed) and remove from heat. Remove bay leaves and cloves and discard.
- In a large bowl, combine cooked macaroni, milk, and both cheeses. Stir to combine and pour into buttered casserole dish.
- Bake until cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Finish in the broiler for crunchy, browned top.
* It's a little tricky to grate Velveeta - if it's too soft, just chop into small pieces