Baking with Wine: Comfort Food
Sunday afternoon's forecast of all-day rain provided the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and bake two of my favorite comfort foods - cheesy macaroni and chocolate chip cookies. And since baking is more fun with wine, I set my oven to 350 degrees and poured myself a glass of 2007 Nigl Sekt Brut de Brut, a beautifully produced dry sparkling wine from Austria. Yes, it would have been a perfect time of day to mix a Mimosa, but this sparkling begged not to cover up its bright, crisp green apple flavors and I happily obliged. Nigl Sekt is made from estate grown grapes, consisting of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Grüner Veltliner and displays characterists often reserved for a much higher priced wine, what a fantastic value!
With a refreshed palate, I boiled macaroni noodles and began to whip together a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars, based on a recipe I discovered in Food & Wine Magazine. I say "based on" because I didn't exactly plan for a day of baking, which yielded a few substitutions. I swapped the pecans for a 3/4 cup of sliced almonds, which I toasted in a pie pan for approximately 8 minutes before adding, and 3/4 cup dried cranberries. (Dried cranberries proved a perfectly sweet pairing for the Nigl Sekt!) I also used all-purpose whole-wheat flour, instead of pastry flour, which worked fine.
As the newly created recipe of Chocolate Almond Cranberry Cookie Bars started to bake, I refilled my glass, drained the macaroni noodles and buttered the bottom of a casserole dish. Sans recipe, I created my Four Cheese Macaroni by combining the noodles with 3 of my favorite cow's milk, semi-soft cheeses: Taleggio, Fontina and Doux de Montagne. (Tip: a meltable cheese is one that is easily squishable between your finger and your thumb. If it breaks, rather than softly mashes, larger pieces of cheese will not melt well in your dish.) A little milk, salt, pepper and a topping of freshly shredded Parmesean was all this perfect Mac + Cheese required!
Four Cheese Macaroni
Serves 4-5, Time: 30 minutes prep, 3 hours total
1/2 lb. small elbow macaroni
1 T. unsalted, softened butter (I love Cabot's VT Butter)
3/4 lb. of semi-soft cheese (I used 1/4 lb. of each - Taleggio, Fontina and Doux de Montagne, you can use 1 cheese or as many as desired.)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup shredded hard, nutty cheese (I used Parmesan, but a Gruyere style cheese would also be delicious!)
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (don't forget to pour yourself a nice glass of sparkling!) and cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Cut your semi-soft cheese into cubes and set aside. Butter the inside of a casserole dish and pour in drained, cooked noodles. Add milk, all of your semi-soft cheese and top with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.
Shred your hard cheese to be used as a topping. Remove the dish from the oven, uncover and let settle for a few minutes. Spread the Parmesan over the top of the pasta and place the uncovered dish back in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until the Parm starts to brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 hour before serving. This allows the cheeses to cool down and regain their full-flavor profiles! Warm to serve and enjoy!
Suggested Wine Paings
The freshness of an unoaked Chardonnay compliments creaminess, and would be a great match for any Cheesey Mac - here's an excellent one to try: 2007 Alain Roy Montagny Premier Cru. If you are in the mood for wine red, try an fruit-forward Pinot Noir from Oregon, such as Evening Land Blue Label.