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Ina's Grown Up Mac & Cheese (Barefoot Bloggers) Vs. Jamie Oliver's Macaroni Cheese

Posted Sep 11 2008 12:00am
Great minds do think alike! I was craving macaroni and cheese and had decided to try Jamie Oliver's Macaroni Cheese from his cookbook when Heather from Randomosity and the Girl selected Ina's Grown Up Mac & Cheese as the first Barefoot Bloggers recipe for September. Since I had already purchased the cheese for Jamie's recipe and they were different from the cheese for Ina's, I decided to go ahead and make both and see which one I liked best. So here is my extremely unscientific "Mac & Cheese Battle."

My judging criteria is: 1) Ease of Preparation 2) Appearance 3) Taste & 4) The all important "Reheatability" factor and each factor will be rated from 0 to 4 "Noodles". May the highest score out of the 16 possible Noodles and the best Mac & Cheese win!

Since I made it first, lets start with Jamie Oliver's Macaroni Cheese. In the book, Jamie notes that: "This is my twist on the old-school frumpy dish of macaroni cheese. Using these four different cheeses together, each one with its own characteristics works really well. For the classic finish, it has to be popped under the broiler to crisp up and go brown on top--lovely. Once you see how quick and easy it is, you won't be making any bechamels or claggy old sauces for a long time." (Can't you just hear him saying that?)

Macaroni Cheese
Cook With Jamie, Jamie Oliver
1 lb 2 oz good quality macaroni
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a knob of butter
a small bunch of fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
3 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus extra for grating
3 1/2 oz fontina or taleggio cheese, roughly torn
3 1/2 oz mascarpone cheese
Sea salt + freshly ground pepper
1/4 of a nutmeg, grated
a small ball of buffalo mozzarella cheese
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Cook the macaroni in a pan of salted boiling water 2 minutes short of timing recommended on the package instructions, then drain in a colander and reserve a little of the cooking water. Heat the butter in a large heavy-based frying pan. When it starts to foam, add the marjoram or oregano and fry for a minute until it starts to crisp up, then turn off the heat. Add your cooked pasta to the marjoram or oregano butter, along with a couple of spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water and the Parmesan, fontina or taleggio and mascarpone. Return to medium heat and toss and stir around until most of the cheese has melted and you have a lovely gooey sauce--you may need to add a little more of the reserved cooking water. Season to taste, then tip it all into an earthenware dish. Grate over the nutmeg, tear over the mozzarella and sprinkle over the extra Parmesan. Bake the macaroni cheese in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, finishing up with a quick whack under the broiler until golden brown and crispy on top. Makes 4-6 servings.
1) Ease of Preparation: One pan to cook macaroni, one pan for the sauce and a bowl to grate the cheese--pretty simple. A little grating and a bit of melting, aided by a little stirring. Not much harder than using packaged mac & cheese (4 Noodles)
2) Appearance: Not much in the way of color except the flecks of green from the oregano. The "whack" under the broiler adds some interest (2 Noodles)
3) Taste: First off it wasn't until I was grating the cheese that I started thinking "where is the "wow" flavor going to come from. All of the cheese offer different qualities and textures but none of them have a really stand out flavor. There just wasn't a lot of flavor in the dish and the texture as it cooled was a bit "rubbery". I kind of wished for some "claggy old sauce" to give it a bit more moisture and flavor. (1 Noodle)
4) Reheatability: Not good. Even as it cools down the cheese "glumps" together. To reheat it, I had to cut it into triangles in the round dish and lift it out and even warmed up it still remained clumpy. (0 Noodles)
Total Noodles: 7 out of 16 (and that was being generous!): Sorry Jamie, the only thing that stood out in the recipe was the ease of making it, I wouldn't make this recipe again.

Now to our girl Ina's Recipe: From Food Network (here), featured on the "Home Comforts" episode, where Jeffery comes home from a "long haul trip" and Ina whips him up some great, fast comfort food. (Once again Jeffery is a lucky man--I wonder if they would adopt me?!)
Grown-Up Mac & Cheese
Barefoot Contessa, Food Network
4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven - there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes. Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top. Yields 2 servings.

1) Ease of Preparation: OK, call me lazy, call me a baby but geez, Ina must have assistants that do all her dishes!!! The recipe is not hard by any means but be prepared to use and wash a lot of pans, dishes, etc. Almost everything is done separately then combined. The recipe says 10 min prep, 1 hour cook and they should add 20 min cleaning up. (Because good things take effort and its been several days since I made it and the pain has subsided a bit, I am giving her an extra noodle than I would have the day I made it) (2 Noodles)
2) Appearance: Bacon, basil, breadcrumbs, add up to a bit more color and visual appeal. I used a smaller pasta than I should have, using a small penne because I thought I had some macaroni in my cupboard but that is not Ina's fault. (3 Noodles)
3) Taste: One word: BACON! Ina had this one from the start. Also there were more "Wow" flavors in the cheese. I had an option of a large Roquefort or Gorgonzola or a small Maytag Blue Cheese so I went with the smaller (much cheaper) Maytag Blue and I think that was a good choice as the blue cheese did not over power the other flavors and added a richness. It wasn't particularly saucy but the flavors were very good together and very adult--living up to its name. (3.5 Noodles)
4) Reheatability: I don't know where the two servings came from Ina!? I got two mini gratin dishes (for me) out of it as well as a small baking dish that went to work. It reheated nicely the next day and the day after that too without clumping up and the bread crumbs remained crisp. (4 Noodles)
Total Noodles 12.5 out of 16

The winner is...Ina! (Sorry Jamie--I still love you and will try other recipes from your book!) Overall Ina's was a great Mac & Cheese recipe and I would make it again, even with all the dishes to wash. A great pick from Heather and my Mac & Cheese craving is officially satisfied for quite awhile I think!

If you don't know about Barefoot Bloggers check it out here. You can see the list of 100+ talented bloggers that participate, visit their sites and see how their Mac & Cheese turned out here.
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