"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Say Cheese! Homemade Fresh Crab and Shrimp Mac and Cheese

Today's post is about conquering a culinary fear, and making a homemade fresh crab and shrimp Mac and Cheese, courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa (aka Ina Garten) of the Food Network (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/lobster-mac-cheese-recipe/index.html).  This dish really does not need many words to describe it, other than "this mac and cheese is very very very good," as my 6-year-old told me after he took his first bite.

My children have this ritual, which I absolutely love. Every time they walk into the kitchen, and they see me standing there stirring, chopping, or mixing something, they ask: "What's for dinner?"  I usually give them a short answer, like "chicken", or "fish", or "pork," or "beef," or "pasta".  When it's pasta, they usually ask "pasta with what?" If I say: "pasta with meat sauce", they usually ask: "Can we have the sauce on the side", which usually means, "I'll eat the pasta first, and then, we'll negotiate about the meat sauce." If we're making meat or fish dishes, they (especially my 6-year-old son) usually ask: "Can we have that in a tortilla as a taco?"  This usually means: "can you please bury the meat [or fish] inside some shredded cheese, sour cream, and avocados?"

This evening, my 6-year-old son walked into the kitchen as I was stirring the cheese sauce (roux), and asked: "What's for dinner, Mommy?" I said: "Mac and Cheese."  He asked: "Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese?" [TJ's Mac and Cheese is his favorite!]  I said: "No. It's Mommy's Mac and Cheese." His eyes widened. He peeked into the pot. He looked at the cooked shrimp in the pan. Then, he said: "Hmmm. Okay."  He walked over to the kitchen table to draw some pictures.

So, I finished preparing the Mac and Cheese (up to the point before mixing the bread crumb and putting it in the oven to bake). I put it in the refrigerator, with a note for my husband to bake it when he got home from work, while I took my daughter to Ballet class.  When I returned from Ballet, I was happy to see an amazing looking "homemade" Mac and Cheese.  When we sat down to eat dinner, my 6-year-old son continued to interrogate me about what was in the Mac and Cheese - the "non-Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese."  I told him: "cheese, crab, and shrimp." He asked: "What kind of cheese?" I said: "Gruyere and Cheddar." He knew what Cheddar was. But, he didn't know what Gruyere was. So, of course, he asked me what it was. I said: "yummy cheese, just try the Mac and Cheese."  He took his first bite.  He turned to me and said: "Mom. This mac and cheese is very very very good. Really." I smiled from ear to ear, and gave him a big kiss on his forehead.

Actually, everyone really enjoyed the Mac and Cheese. I told them that the actual recipe called for Lobster. However, I chose to use 1/2 wild shrimp and 1/2 crab meat (Wild Alaskan Crab meat from Berkeley Bowl) since Lobster is a lot more expensive.  My son said: "I don't like Lobster anyway." The thing is, I don't think he's ever had Lobster. My 9-year-old daughter was quick to point that out to him. Kids!

So, today, I took a risk and decided to make homemade Mac and Cheese. It's a risk because I am actually terrified of making roux because of how quickly you can burn the flour and butter, or have the milk accidentally boil over. Roux, like baking, requires precision in the kitchen. If you know me, you know that I like to "experiment" in the kitchen; I don't usually like to stick to exact measurements. But, it really was not that bad. You just have to pay attention and keep an eye and hands on everything for a few minutes.  Now, I don't think I will be buying the Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese anymore. Thank you, Ina!

Here is the recipe from Food Network Magazine (October 2012 issue).  I modified this recipe in two ways: (1) I used fresh crab meat and shrimp instead of lobster (more budget friendly) and (2) I cooked it in a large baking dish instead of individual gratin dishes (less work, more "busy mom" friendly").  For the shrimp, I bought peeled and deveined shrimp (makes life easier for me!). I rinsed the shrimp under cool water, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and sauteed the shrimp with about 1 Tablespoon of butter until the shrimp has no more pink (about 3 minutes per side). I added the crab meat and the cooked shrimp in the place of the lobster. The dish came out better than I expected.  Simply delicious! We ate the Mac and Cheese with a side green salad.  It was a perfect meal for the whole family - kids and adults alike!

NOTE: If you don't care for crab or shrimp, I would suggest using crispy bacon or even roasted chicken. I think you would still get a delicious mac and cheese.  Also, make sure to use good quality cheese; it will make a difference in the flavor. I used a Gruyere that was aged for 11 months. I would suggest using a Gruyere that's aged for at least 6 months.

Lobster Mac & Cheese 
(Ina Garten - aka the Barefoot Contessa, as modified by me!)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups grated Gruyere cheese (12 ounces)
  • 2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar (8 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, 1/2-inch-diced
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Add the oil to a large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta and cook al dente according to the directions on the package. Drain well.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't allow it to boil. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper and nutmeg and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the cooked pasta and lobster. Pile the mixture into 6 to 8 (2-cup) gratin dishes.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine with the bread crumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on top.

Until next time . . . Cheers!



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  2. I love this dish so much. It is so yummy. Thank you so much again for making the wonderful dinner tonight. After I took my first bite, I knew that I would have more than 1 serve. And yes!! I had 3 serves of tasty Mac and Cheese for my dinner tonight. :) Ten...

  3. Ten: I am so glad you liked it. The left-overs were even tastier! -:) Adelmise