Last week, I wrote my column on the MACademeic Challenge Mac and Cheese competition that I entered. I sometimes think no one understands what these competitions are like when it comes to the expense ($100 for me), the time and the pressure for an amateur like myself.
I asked a fellow competitor and Chef’s Choice winner Kim Schreiber, Cloverleaf School Board member, to write up a few words on her experience. Well, she gave me a column instead.
Enjoy Kim’s tale of the competition journey.
Two months ago: “Hey honey, the Academic Challenge Team is having a Mac 'n’ Cheese Cook off. We should enter.” Note the “we.” What can “we” make that will be good enough to compete with chefs and also taste really good? Seafood macaroni and cheese, of course!
Fast forward to Jan. 3, 10 p.m.: Having arrived home after being at dinner with friends, I figured it would be a good idea to prep as much as I could tonight. I shredded 4 pounds of cheese, put my pot of water on the stove and smashed 4 cups of Ritz crackers for the topping. I then reviewed my recipe only to discover that I needed 8 more ounces of lobster, crab and shrimp as I doubled the recipe.
11:20 p.m.: I head off to Buehler’s to get my seafood and another pound of butter. Thank Heaven they are open until midnight.
Midnight: I am home and cutting up my remaining seafood. Going to bed, I will get up at 7:30 a.m. to put everything together and get the mac and cheese in the oven. Cooked the pasta with no problem. It is draining over the seafood. Started the cream sauce and whisked the eggs. When the sauce was hot, I tempered the eggs very carefully so as not to scramble them. That would be disastrous.
Sauce is looking good – uh oh! What are those little lumps forming? NO, NO, NO, it can’t be the eggs scrambling! I tempered them just like I’ve seen them do on the cooking channel. Maybe if I leave it on a low heat and stir, it will smooth out. Yes! It’s working.
Now onto the rue and cheese sauce. I’ve melted the butter and added the flour. It will thicken up soon. Why isn’t the rue getting thick? Don’t panic. Add a little more flour and a little more and a little more. It’s a caramel color like the recipe calls for, but it isn’t thickening. Can’t wait any longer. Have to add the cheese. A little at a time. Don’t have much time, have to get this into the oven!
OH NO! The five pounds of cheese looks like a gelatinous mountain and the rue has clumped together in the middle of the cheese! How can I fix it? I know; I’ll add more butter. That started to work, but then my gelatinous blob was swimming in butter. Drat! OK, let’s drain off the butter.
Panic is setting in. I can’t back out at this point! It’s 9:15 a.m. Where did the time go? Just keep going. Now that the cheese is almost all melted, I’ll add the cream sauce. Great, it looks like wallpaper paste! I know; I’ll add back in some of the butter. Oh my, mac and cheese that’s actually working.
Need to get the cracker topping ready. It’s cooking on the stove top, but there is no way the macaroni and seafood is going to fit in the soup pot I’m using. I had my husband (the other part of the “we”) grab my giant stainless bowl and dumped the macaroni and seafood in, then added the sauce. Still looks kind of sticky. No turning back now. Added the pats of butter on top of the concoction and put the cracker topping on. Into the oven. It’s now 9:40 a.m. and it has to cook for an hour. Fingers crossed.
Took my shower and readied everything. Pulled the pan out at 10:30 a.m. It looks good. Only time will tell. I figure it will either be an epic fail or a miracle. If it fails, I just tell everyone Jeff cooked it. If it’s a miracle, of course I’ll take the credit.
Holy moly, they like it! Karl from “Cookin’ with Karl” said it was better than his. Pinch me. And we won the Chef’s Choice Award! Not bad for a rookie cook.
What an adventure! Would “we” do it again? In a heartbeat.