Monday, May 10, 2010

Moosewood Macaroni & Cheese

I've talked up Moosewood often enough here that you might suspect I'm a shill for the restaurant, nothing better than a marketeer for their prodigious line of stylish reasonably-priced cookbooks available now for the low low price of... etcetera, etcetera.  The truth is, yeah, I loved the restaurant more than I hated it, and I have been nothing but happy with the food I've produced from the Moosewood cookbooks.  Since we've been trying out vegetarianism (we've been saying veggie-curious half seriously) the last month or so, we've been paging through the cookbooks even more than usual.  But after what happened last week, I'm starting to think maybe all my praise has been based on something transient, something distressingly more like good luck than good design, something like happenstance.  You guys, last week we made something from New Classics so abysmal, so abhorrently distasteful I am about to be forced to paraphrase myself, to reuse a line I first used to describe the crime against nature that was Tater-Tot Nachos served in the wilds of the midwest.  Are you ready for this?

It was so awful, I want to make it again just to take a picture of myself throwing it away.

It started out almost as innocently as a meal can start: we wanted macaroni and cheese for dinner.  Here's a useful rule of thumb: when the majority of the ingredients are included in the dish's name, the difficulty of execution is somewhere between poking yourself in the face and sitting in a folding chair.  Seriously, it's like cooking at a first grade level.  You put pasta in water, you add cheese.  Done.  Next. Meal.  In this way, we were bolstered.

The cookbook set us up well, too: to add some protein to your cheesy pasta, simply blend some tofu into this dish's cheese sauce, your kids will never suspect the extra nutrition!  And you know what, they probably wouldn't, either, because there is no way they're getting far enough into this dish to detect the subtle flavor of tofu.  Instead, the first and most egregious misstep was one rather obviously incongruous ingredient the addition of which they fail to even mention in the text: along with the cheese and tofu going into the sauce, you add raw diced onions and prepared mustard.  2 huge Tablespoons of prepared mustard.  In our defense, we questioned it when we were putting everything together, but ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we'd never been steered wrong by these books.  Where others have failed so spectacularly, Moosewood has held strong, had won the sort of trust necessary to even make us add an ingredient we knew we shouldn't.

After combination but before baking, the dish was the color and consistency of deviled eggs and had a smell akin to mayonnaise late in the process of turning.  Yet on and on we pressed, turning away our noses and hoping that all this would somehow magically transform into deliciousness in the oven. It took literally an hour and a half of baking (twice as long as indicated because the middle remained stubbornly cold) before we could dig into the finished product.  Once we chipped our way through the dry, insanely breadcrumby crust--yet another misstep, if a forgivable one--the interior just looked and smelled wrong.  The kind of thing you would send back if served it in a restaurant.  Instead of lessening in baking, the smell had intensified, building up to a stink that became more and more hideous as it permeated the room.  If we had turned back then and ordered a pizza, we might have been spared some measure of queasiness, but by then it was probably 9pm, we were completely famished and held still to our faith in the source.  So in spite of the evidence before us, we spooned it into bowls.
Dana, to her credit, made it maybe three bites in before she gave up; I am ashamed to admit that in my hunger and desperation, I somehow managed to polish off most of my bowl before pushing it bodily across the table.  Reader, let me put you there with us.  Below the crisp, nearly wooden crust, the texture was somewhere in the neighborhood of leftover egg salad, lukewarm and paste-like toward the center, molten and fluid along the edges.  The smell was some kind of heavy mustard and sulfur dried on the counter.  It tasted like culinary death, like holding sulfrous clotted ash in our mouths on a dare, only the dare was simply a late dinner of what should have been comfort food. The taste was overwhelmingly the bitterness of uncooked onions, unctuous and nauseating. There was mustard on the tongue, too, of course.  There was mustard besieging us on every side at that point, its presence inescapable within the four walls of the house, even after disposing of the leftovers, even after brushing--nay, scouring--our teeth, it remained.  That night as I slept, I swear to God that I could dream of nothing but the pervasive presence of mustard and onions.  This is how deeply we were failed.

I have to confess that I still find myself a little mystified by the level of fail here.  I'm still not clear on how a simple dish went so hellishly wrong.  I mean, even Trader Joe's makes their microwaveable macaroni and cheese a winner, how could something so much more work intensive be so far off the mark?  While we didn't get a picture of me throwing the remains of this ill fated adventure away, we got this:
 Why did you have to make Dana so sad, Moosewood?  Why, oh why, have you betrayed us?


Alex Solla said...

Repeat after me: Moosewood is the Devil. Say that seven times into a mirror and then spit at the glass and all your mac-and-cheese woes will be gone.

NEVER EVER put that crap in mac-n-cheese. All that is needed is a simple roux, turned into a light bechamel sauce, three good melting cheeses and some oven time. Seriously. Grueyere, Monterey Jack and some cheddar make a perfect mix. Could also do some goat cheese instead. Keep it simple.

AND STAY AWAY FROM MUSTARD at all costs!!! Save that stuff for hot dogs.

twospoons said...

Buahaha, I tried making the cold cucumber soup from the moosewood book. Oh, my poor, poor flatmates. It's definitely better to follow for the soups.

Also, I tried making frittatas by blending silken tofu through the egg mixture to reduce the amount of egg needed. Oh. DEAR. Is all I have to say about that. I certainly don't hate tofu, but DAMN that was some nasty frittata.

...Er, so yes. Tofu is tofu. For tofu-ing only. I think we both learned this the hard way :(

twospoons said...

Ah, crap. I meant the hot soups. They're pretty good. NO COLD SOUPS!

Janet said...

Part of the problem could have been that the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of mustard not 2 Tablespoons.

Dana said...

I'm the one making the frowny face in the photo, and let me tell you, two teaspoons of mustard is two teaspoons too much to be in a macaroni and cheese recipe. The tablespoon thing was actually just a typo in the post.

hblanks said...

Sorry about all that. The man who taught me to me to cook, Tom Hudgens, is finally publishing the Deep Springs cookbook this fall*, and it should include what's arguably the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had or made. I'm not sure what sort of approach the Moosewood recipe was taking, but this one, like all good ones, treats the dish as a savory custard. Hence eggs, cream, butter, three kinds of cheese, and the largest elbow macaroni you can find. You can't eat it but once every six months, and it takes time since you must cook it first on the stovetop and then make it set in the oven. But really, what other opportunities are there in American food to eat a hot, rich pudding for the main course of your meal?

* The Commonsense Kitchen: 500 Recipes + Lessons for a Hand-Crafted Life, Chronicle Books, and your eventual wedding present from M & I, once it finally goes to press this fall.