Last weekend I competed in the The Takedowns Mac and Cheese Off. This is a glorious food competetion run by the all mighty Matt Timms, that I was honored to have been accepted in to.
I had originally planned to enter my Hawaiian Fire Mac but was outvoted and went with this Rueben Mac instead.
Shredded corned beef gets mixed with sauerkraut cooked in beer, thousand island dressing with pasta in a cheesy bechamel with a mustard rye top. Its salty and creamy and crunchy and smooth and full of sheer NYC deliciousness.
Me and The Bee served up hot and melty mac and cheese all day at The Bell House, and had a fucking blast, although I did not win a thing. Here are my excuses – I am so used to Brooklyn Kitchen competitions where everyone is a crazy foodie and eats meat that it slipped my mind that so many vegetarians would be in attendance, which is shameful, as I was a vegetarian for 15 years, and macaroni and cheese was basically a food group to me then. Also, not everyone likes sauerkraut. So my little station got skipped over A LOT.
However, we were lucky enough to be stationed next to popular choice winner Piers Moreton and his posse of frat-tastic friends, which was cool because they reminded me of my little brother whom I miss, and they were funny. When the competiton started i noticed that Piers pulled out a super British accent for the ladies and became very popular very fast, and his sweatervested friend and I marveled at this while he asked me if I thought his preppy ensemble was going to lose points for Piers. We proceeded to make fun of hipsters and have a seriously good time. Thank you also to my friend Beer.
After Piers won, I became fascinated with how a little truffle oil and an accent can make such a difference at these things, and I asked him for his info so that I might harrass him in to saying a word or two. I was hoping that he was writing a Sociology paper on accents or hipsters, or SOMETHING. But alas, he was just there to win like the rest of us.
Here is what he had to say about why he does food comps and why he went with his recipe. you can also see him make it in the Good Day link after.
“I discovered The Takedowns on a break from some inebriated late night ebaying, and food blog scouring, and after placing second in the bacon competition with a Blue Cheese Bacon Explosion wedge, I was hooked on the idea of competitive cooking. Matt Timms, the organizer, and his boundless enthusiasm and never ending pursuit of fun just make for an incredible experience that borders on the addictive. So many of the people in the comps are regulars.
If I’m being honest, I’d never made Mac and Cheese that wasn’t Kraft before that weekend, but I knew from being a closet food geek, that Cheddar and Gruyere were traditionally the best ways to go in terms of flavour. From past competitions, I’d noticed that the busiest recipes, with the most exotic, and romanticized ingredients, like peet imported from Ireland to smoke Goat with, we’re always favoured by the judges, but I am far too disorganized and ‘old skooool’ (Uggh. Sorry.) to go off the deep end like that.
I focused most of my attention on the crust, because I figured the holy trinity of butter, cream, and cheese could not be fucked up. Not even by me. Put in pan. Heat. Eat. Nom nom nom…
I poached the idea of using Japanese panko bread crumbs from someone on the web, and reckoned it would be tasty to mix in some Thanksgivingy Sage and Onion stuffing mix, because I’ve always cooked with that scene from Friends in my head, where Rachel makes a trifle, and puts bolognese in it by accident, but Joey loves it, because he loves all the flavours. “Custard, good. Jam, good. Meat, good.” Sometimes that results in a spectacularly abominable vat of rat food simmering away on my stove, but very often it comes out tasty as can be. Adding Parmesan to the crust was a no brainer, as it’s my favourite cheese. I eat that stuff like an apple. Yum.
The lady next to me at the competition, when she took a break from ribbing me about playing up my english accent to gain the female vote, pointed out that using truffle oil was tantamount to cheating. Well, I kind of felt that way before I drizzled it on top, likening it to a baseball pitcher using Vaseline he’s rubbed onto the brim of his hat, or spit, to get a little extra hook on his breaking ball, but I didn’t get up at 6am on a Sunday, and lug a couple steaming pots of goo out to Gowanus, not to try and win. On goes the Truffle Oil!!! Not too much though! It’s all about the cheese! My laziness kept it simple, and I got very lucky. Everyone wanted it that way.
I was also extremely fortunate, that while a beautiful piece of pork shoulder I’d marinated overnight, and braised to perfection with tender loving care, was resting on a chair in my kitchen, my dog Archie started gnawing on it. Dog savaged meat would not fly, that was certain, but I hadn’t accounted for the vast numbers of vegetarians that would turn out. Everyone got a chance to try mine, whereas a lot of delicious entries went unmolested. I tried one with blue cheese and brisket (I think) that was awesome! Liked it much better than mine…
Anyway, I’ve said too much, and upon further inspection, I sound like a pretentious asshole, but I’ve got some foosball to watch. Go Big Blue!!!! Brady sucks!!!!”
Piers Moreton, ladies and gentlemen. His friend said he was 19, but who knows. He wouldn’t give me his age or say what he does for a living, short of a not serious 22 yr old philanthropist answer, so I will go ahead and vote for 24 yr old Ornithologist. Feel free to make other suggestions in the comments. He was very awesome regardless, and totally earned the popular vote win.
Also, I am pretty sure that is the first time any one has referred to me as a lady.
Photo stolen from sponsor Zagat
For more coverage on the event and the winners, click these.
Good Day – Winners Video and Recipes
Not Eating Out in NY A judge’s perspective and a shout out to me and sauerkraut! And on one of my favorite blogs, no less!
And now, for my recipe….
Serves – Everyone. I doubled the below recipe and added another cup of both milk and cheese.
Nutrition – Sauerkraut is a natural digestive enzyme, so it helps cut through the richness and help your body process it. You are still gonna get fat though, so jog while you eat.
4 cups Jarlsberg cheese
4 cups shredded gouda
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
4 1/2 cups whole milk
1 TB fresh ground pepper
1 corned beef – slow cooked for 7 hours
1 big package sauerkraut, i used Sabrett’s
1 big bottle Thousand Island dressing
breadcrumb top –
3/4 loaf rye bread
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp mustard powder
2 boxes Cavatappi pasta, or pasta of choice, cooked very al dente, drained, and rinsed with cold water.
For the corned beef, please see recipe for slow cooker corned beef Shred and place in a container while you make your sauce.
First you want to make a roux. Get a stock pot and melt your butter very gently so it doesn’t break down, then sprinkle in the flour whilst whisking until you have a beautiful, gooey yellow paste at the bottom of your pan.
Then start whisking in your cream and milk, and congratulations! You have just made a bechamel! Add the pepper and heat your sauce, stirring constantly and being careful not to burn it, and then starting adding the cheeses, stirring, stirring, stirring. While this is happening, put your sauerkraut in a sauce pan with a 1/2 cup of beer and heat.
Now you can lower the burner to just keep it warm, and add in your pasta, and enjoy the sounds of mixing it together! : ) In a separate bowl, mix your corned beef shreds with the sauerkraut (do not drain) and thousand island. Then pile this into your pot. Marvel at the freakish amount of mac and cheese you have just made.
For the breadcrumb top, cut your bread in to cubes and spray with olive oil and coat with mustard powder. Toast for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Then get lazy and toss them in to a food processor, or if you have had an expecially trying day, pulverize in a bag with a hammer or mallet. Mix with melted butter and add more mustard powder if you think it needs some. Spread atop your mac n cheeses and bake that baby for about 40-45 minutes at 350. Then devour.