comfort food

Almost exactly six years ago I moved from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  I was still relatively new to New York and hadn’t spent a whole lot of time in Brooklyn prior to moving there but I knew that even though the rent was still exorbitant you got more space for your money so it seemed like a great idea.  But I digress.

My roommate and I happened to move in the midst of a snowstorm that produced what was then one of the largest amounts of snowfall on record.  Awesome.  I remember packing and moving from 6 in the morning until 8 at night and then crashing hard at 9pm which made that the first time I had gone to bed that early without being sick since I was about eight years old.  I still remember it being one of the hardest sleeps I’ve ever experienced.  I was cold out.

The next morning my roommate and I ventured out in search of sustenance and came across a cute little hipster pub that seemed like it had a decent menu.  I ordered mac and cheese.  It was the best dang mac and cheese I’ve ever had in my entire life.  And I have eaten some mac and cheese, let me tell you.  This heavenly mac and cheese had bacon in it.  And it had a crisp topping.  Yes, please.

The name of this restaurant?  DuMont Burger.  I lived in that neighborhood for two-and-a-half years and whenever I had been really good about going to the gym, or whenever I had worked a sixty-hour week, or whenever someone gave me the stink eye on the subway I would reward/comfort myself with mac and cheese takeout from DuMont Burger.  It was simply too easy to call on my walk home from the subway and swing in to pick it up.  Instant comfort.

Now that I no longer live (anywhere near) there I decided that I must recreate it for myself at home.  I couldn’t find radiatore pasta at my local grocery store, but fusilli worked just fine.  I had panko (Japanese bread crumbs) on hand instead of standard bread crumbs so subbed those.  I served pork with the mac and cheese so opted not to include bacon in my version (though I certainly will next time) because that just seemed like pig overkill.  Even still, it turned out pretty great.

If it’s as grey and cold elsewhere in the country as it is in my neck of the woods right now this would be a great week to make yourself a big ol’ pan of it.  Get to it!

DuMac and Cheese (from “The New Brooklyn Cookbook” by Melissa and Brendan Vaughan)

  • 1 pound radiatore, elbow macaroni, or fusilli
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound Gruyère, grated, divided
  • 1/2 pound sharp white cheddar, grated, divided
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, toss with the olive oil in a large bowl, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; bring to a gentle simmer.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue mixing with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a pale golden color, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk and cream mixture to the flour mixture, whisking constantly to incorporate. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally to keep the mixture from burning. Add half the Gruyère and half the cheddar and whisk until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the cooked pasta and toss well to combine. Pour the pasta into a buttered 9 x 13-inch baking dish or a 3-quart gratin dish. Top with the remaining Gruyère and cheddar and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Allow the mac and cheese to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

the right stuff

You could say that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey but let’s be real here: it’s really all about the stuffing.  Hands down stuffing is the best part of the whole meal and definitely everyone’s favorite leftover.  (Right?  I’m not alone here, am I?)

I used to be more of purist when it came to stuffing and always made the traditional kind with breadcrumbs, onions, celery, sage, etc. and then I branched out and did a cornbread version.  Last year I got real crazy and added sausage, apples, and dried currants.  Somebody stop me!

If you’ve been a reader of Baxter and Main for even a short while you have probably noticed my affinity for all things bacon so when I saw a recipe for stuffing with pancetta (which is essentially Italian bacon) I could not pass it up.  The fact that it also included chestnuts which is an ingredient I have only begun to experiment with was just icing on the cake.

This stuffing also has prunes which add a nice sweetness and probably help balance out some of the not-so-good-for-you ingredients (see image above of pancetta frying in butter…)

The recipe called for canned chestnuts which were not so easy to find in Madison, Wisconsin.  I tried three different grocery stores before winding up at the LARGEST grocery store I have ever seen in my life (it rivals a suburban Wal-Mart in square footage with maybe a Kmart thrown in for good measure) where I spent a good half hour seeking them out.  Would they be near canned vegetables?  No.  With nuts?  Naw.  In the ethnic food section?  Nope, weren’t there either.  Turns out they get shelved next to the canned pie filling.  Wha-wha-what?  Yeah, that’s what I said.

However, the long search for the canned chestnuts was well worth it as the stuffing was delish.  A very strong contender for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, indeed.

Chestnut, Prune, and Pancetta Stuffing (found at www.epicurious.com)

Yield: Serves 12
Active Time: 45 min
Total Time: 2 hr

  • 1 (1 1/2-lb) sourdough loaf, cut into 1/3-inch dice (18 cups)
  • 1 lb coarsely chopped pancetta slices (about 3 cups)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 3 cups chopped celery (5 to 6 ribs)
  • 4 cups chopped onions (2 large)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 (7- to 8-oz) jars peeled cooked whole chestnuts, halved (4 cups)
  • 3/4 lb pitted prunes (2 cups), quartered
  • 5 cups turkey stock , heated to liquefy, or reduced-sodium chicken broth (40 fl oz)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.

Scatter bread in a single layer in 2 large shallow baking pans (17 by 12 inches) and toast, stirring once or twice and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a very large bowl.

Cook pancetta in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Add butter and heat until melted, then add celery and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 12 minutes. Stir in sage, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute.  Add pancetta mixture along with chestnuts and prunes to bowl containing bread. Whisk together stock and eggs, then stir into bread mixture until combined well. Transfer to baking dish (stuffing will mound above dish).

Bake, loosely covered with a buttered sheet of foil (buttered side down) 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake until top is browned, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Cooks’ notes:
•Stuffing, without stock-and-egg mixture, can be assembled (but not baked) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Stir in stock mixture, then proceed with recipe.
•Stuffing can be baked 6 hours ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, loosely covered. Reheat, covered, in a preheated 400°F oven until hot, about 30 minutes.