Mushroom Powder

January 14, 2012

And its multifarious uses!

I adore mushrooms.  I love shiitakes stir-fried with strips of flank steak, I love the earthy funk of fresh morels in cream sauce, I love porcini-and-pea risotto – I even love the unjustly-maligned white button mushroom (which is, you may not be aware, the exact same thing as a brown crimini or portobello mushroom – they’re all agaricus bisporus, and they don’t taste different in the slightest.).

Why is an Algonquin spirit selling mushrooms, anyhow?  I guess there's probably a Mushroom Manitou, but I would have associated that sort of nature spirit with, y'know, higher phyla like... chordata.  Or angiospermae.  Whatever, this undercuts my thesis that mushrooms are great, so ignore it.

I also love that my parents have a membership at Costco, where rather large quantities of dried mushrooms can be had for not too much money.  They recently picked up a big ol’ jar for me, at my request, since I’d used up most of the Chinese Black Mushrooms (same species as the shiitake, Lenintula edodes) that my friend Allison gave to me as a host present.  Thanks, Allison!  They were delightful, and giving people dried mushrooms is the best tradition.

Anyway, Carolyn and I were at Volo again, and we had the BMG flatbread on their current menu.  That menu won’t be around forever, since it’s seasonal, so here it is for posterity:

12        B M G     F l a t b r e a d
Berkshire bacon, mushroom, goat cheese

There’s no way that could be bad!  And of course, it wasn’t.  There were chunks of cooked mushroom, little batons of bacon, and half-teaspoon-sized dots of goat cheese – and simply typing that makes me salivate.  But the interesting part was the smell.  Cooked, fresh mushrooms don’t have a particularly intense flavor most of the time.  It’s the dried mushrooms that have that intense, musty flavor.  There was, I noticed, a dusty coating on the flatbread.  I asked the waitress, “Is this powdered mushroom?” and she was like, “Good eye, yes it is!”

So that was one of those things that I tried and immediately knew I wanted to steal.

Mushroom Powder
Not exactly a spice, not exactly a condiment

The Setup

You will need:

  • 1 cup (by volume) of dried shiitake mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms, but shiitakes are relatively inexpensive)
  • A clean and odorless coffee or spice grinder

I'm not particularly concerned about sand or grit, because it's going to get ground so fine you won't even notice it's there.  Whatever, it's good for you.

The Heist

1. In batches, grind the mushrooms into a rough powder, and gradually add in the mushrooms until they’re all ground up, and continue to process until they become a relatively fine powder.  You could grind them into a superfine, almost cakey powder, if you wanted, but I think you’d have to add salt (the added agitation of the salt helps grind other, softer stuff).

2.  Put the resulting powder into a bowl – you should have, by volume, about a half-cup.  Store in a tightly-lidded plastic container, out of direct sunlight, for a few weeks to a month or so.  Whole dried mushrooms have a shelf life of about half a year before they start to lose a lot of their flavor, so I figure the ceiling on this powder is maybe two months.

It looks like sand but smelled like mushroom!  I felt like a WIZARD.

It won’t last that long, however, because once you make  a batch of this stuff, you’ll want to put it on everything, like…

Mushroom Popcorn!

The Setup

You will need:

  • 4 parts mushroom powder
  • 2 parts kosher salt
  • 1 part black pepper
  • oil
  • popcorn
  • a large, heavy pot with a lid

The Heist

1. Combine the mushroom powder, the salt, and the pepper in your spice grinder and process until everything turns into a fine powder.  For a half-cup (unpopped) serving of popcorn, I’d use 2 teaspoons of mushroom powder, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper (and feel free to use the whole peppercorns here – they’re getting scrunched up anyhow)

If you need me, I'll be downstairs, with the shopvac.

When combined, it’ll look kinda like this:

You can call, but I prob'ly won't hear you, because it's loud with the shopvac on.

That is, rather like sawdust and pencil shavings.  Never fear, though; this stuff is delicious.

2.  Get some potholders ready.  Heat a few teaspoons of oil in your heavy pot, measure out your popcorn (more than 1/2 a cup of unpopped kernels in a 6-quart pot will result in I Love Lucy-esque overflow hijinks, so be forewarned.), and stir briskly over high heat for a minute or so, until the kernels begin to turn opaque.

3.  When this happens, cover the pot, and wait for the sound of popping kernels.  At this point, take hold of the pot’s handles with your potholders, and shake the pot vigorously, making sure it stays in contact with the heat.  Don’t shake it up and down, just side to side.  Give it a good shake at least once every ten to fifteen seconds so nothing gets stuck on the bottom.

4.  When the space between pops exceeds, oh, 10 seconds or so, turn off the heat, and let the pot stay covered for about a minute to protect yourself from rogue poppers.  Then decant into a large bowl, and from a relatively high height, sprinkle the mushroom seasoning mixture over it, and toss until coated and tasty.  You probably won’t need any additional oil to make the mixture adhere to the popcorn, since the grains are so small they’ll fit in the nooks and crannies of the popped kernels.  Health food!

Food blogger's secret: I test the recipes in full proportion, but sometimes, for photography purposes, I just make enough to create a single serving.   There is a second, smaller prep bowl underneath that popcorn, to give the appearance of greater volume.  The more you know!

I guess lots of upmarket restaurants, at least in Chicago, are giving out pre-dinner popcorn instead of bread.  Graham Elliot is known for it, and so is decorated newcomer Ruxbin.  It makes sense.  Popcorn is cheap, not particularly labor-intensive, and easier to customize on the fly than bread is.  It’s also less filling than bread, but it takes as long to eat.  Graham Elliot does theirs with parmesan and truffle oil; Ruxbin does it with furikake.  I’d like to put my mushroom popcorn right up against theirs.  I also love to douse popcorn in garlic oil, but we’ll get to that.

If popcorn’s not your speed, then allow me to return to a Clean Platter standby: Macaroni and Cheese!

Mushroom Mac
A recipe identical to the Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese, with emendations in bold text.

  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/4 of a medium onion – about 1/4 cup, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk, any type of fat (I used skim and it was fine.)
  • 3 ounces, by weight, grated/dry mexican cotija cheese (or parmesan)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons mushroom powder
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (optional but awesome; I didn’t have any fresh on hand)
  • 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni noodles
  • a 2-quart saucepan
  • a 6-quart pasta pot
  • a colander

The Heist

Prepare identically to the Essential Stovetop recipe:

1.  Dice the celery, garlic, and onion; measure your milk, cheese, fat, and flour.  Slice the mushrooms.

2.  Start heating the pasta water.

3.  Melt the butter in the 2-quart saucepan and cook the celery, garlic, and onion until soft, 5-7 minutes.  Add in the flour and mix into a paste over medium heat, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

4.  Add the milk a little at a time, and stir vigorously but not extravagantly, until all traces of roux-lumps are gone.  Continue to stir and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture is pleasantly thickened.  Reduce heat to low.

5.  Add in the mushroom powder, stir, and taste.  Don’t add any salt, because the cheese is plenty salty.

6.  Yeah!  Add the cotija or parmesan cheese.  High-five the person nearest you.  Kill the heat, stir to combine.

7.  Cook the sliced mushrooms in oil over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until they’ve lost most of their liquid, shrunk, and browned.  Cook in a single layer.

8.  Cook the macaroni in the boiling, salted water, and cook until al dente – then drain and incorporate into the cheese sauce.  Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, and serve.

I only made a little bit, and I made it without the fresh mushrooms, and I should have put it in a ramekin and not a plate, but it’ll look something like this.Who serves Mac and Cheese in such a flat way?  It must be heaped, like a righteous, bounteous pile!

But with tasty chunks of mushroom on top.

Anyway.  I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a version of Volo’s bacon, mushroom, and goat cheese flatbread, but with an addition of my own – garlic oil!

Garlic oil!

You will need:

  • a head of garlic or two
  • a cup of good-quality olive oil
  • a clear plastic squeeze bottle – these should usually cost about 1 to 2 bucks.
  • a small saucepan.


1.  First, separate and peel all the cloves of garlic and, once peeled, tumble them into a saucepan.  Fill the pan with oil to cover the garlic, and put it on the stove over low heat – at the barest simmer.  You don’t want to really cook the oil here; you want to heat it enough to soften up the garlic, but you want to keep the oil as bright-tasting as you can.

2.  Let it go for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the kitchen smells magnificent.  Hot olive oil smells surprisingly fruity, so you may find yourself sniffing around for an unexpected banana (like ya do).

3.  Once the garlic is soft, remove it with a slotted spoon.  Let the oil cool off, and then pour it into a measuring cup, then a squeeze bottle.  Keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

4.  Do something wonderful with the oil-poached garlic cloves.  Slather them on a toasted baguette, eat them plain, throw them into a batch of mashed potatoes, dab them behind your ears – I don’t care.  They’re going to be delicious, whatever you do.

Bacon, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Flatbread with Garlic Oil
Makes either 2 full-size pizzas or 4 little flatbreads

The Setup

You will need:

  • A recipe of pizza dough
  • Garlic oil (see above)
  • Mushroom powder (see above)
  • a 4-ounce log of goat cheese
  • 4 ounces of bacon, cut into little sticks
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms, sliced thin.

The Heist

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Cut your dough into either two or four balls, depending on your preference, and roll them out; place them on an oiled baking sheet.

2.  In a small skillet, cook the bacon over low heat until cooked through but not crispy.  Reserve the bacon, and cook the sliced mushrooms in the fat until they give off their liquid and turn brown.  Take off the heat and place in a bowl.

3.  Drizzle each flatbread with a teaspoon or so of garlic oil, then dot them with bacon pieces, mushrooms, and half-teaspoons of goat cheese.  Dust generously with mushroom powder!

4.  Bake in the 450-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the dough is crisp and brown around the edges.  Let cool for two minutes, then cut and serve.

Well.  I think that’s enough for one day, don’t you?

Happy cooking!



Cincy Mac

October 29, 2011

There used to be a place near my apartment called Cinner’s – it closed a few months ago, but before it did, it broke open my conception of what chili was.  Just, wham – broke it in half and filled the empty space between with a nest of spaghetti.  The restaurant was billed as a Chili Parlor and Cocktail Lounge, all done up in the style of Cincinnati, Ohio – Carolyn, an Ohioan (and don’t you forget it), squealed with joy when she first stepped inside, although I’m not actually sure if she’s ever been to Cincinnati.  I’ll ask her.

I had created, in my head, two classes of chili.  The first, a Standard-Issue Chili, made with ground beef, tomatoes, chili powder, and beans – the sort of thing I would have learned to make in the copy of Evelyn Raab’s Clueless In The Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens that I got when I was twelve.  (Her chili has a little bit of curry powder in it.  Badass!)  The second class of chili was one that my high school friend Ian taught me about when we had a chili cookoff at my house – Ian’s family was from Texas, originally – a big, chunky stew of beef chuck cubes, ancho chiles, masa harina, and no beans or tomatoes.  I thought, “okay!  these are the kinds of chilis that exist.”  There was the Texan-style ur-chili, the proto-chili; and there were the bean-and-tomato-containing variations, like mine.

There was no room for Cincy-style in my repertoire, simply because it was off my radar.  I’d heard of it, sureBut I’d never eaten it.  It never stayed in my head for very long.

Cincinnati-style was invented in the 20s by a coupla Macedonian immigrants who put allspice, clove, cinnamon, and chocolate in their chili and put it over hot  dogs (they call ‘em coneys!) and spaghetti.  I didn’t know you could eat chili over spaghetti.  Okay, that’s not completely true – I did it once at my friend Jack’s house in high school, but his dad’s from Milwaukee, and God only knows what they do up there.  Cincinnati chili, or Skyline Chili, after the most famous Cincy-based place that sells the stuff, is almost more of a sauce than a chili, and what I like the most about it is that, unlike Texas-style chili con carne or my Midwestern Chili-an-beans, it’s got a completely uniform texture.  It’s tender, which isn’t really something that comes to mind when I think of ground beef.  Yeah.  This is one to make in your crockpot – it’s best after hours and hours of slow bubbling.

Anyway, the thing about Cincy Chili is that it goes over pasta, served with shredded cheddar (Cincy Chili 3-Way), cheddar and either diced onion or red beans (4-Way), or cheddar, onions, and beans (5-Way!).  But at Cinner’s, since their entire menu consisted of chilified food, they had other options, and among them was the legendary CINCY MAC.  This was just the thing for a blustery, miserable day in mid-february.  You’d sit down with a can of Hamm’s beer (which is a Minnesota beer but they sold it there proudly – it’s a thin lager on the order of a Pabst Blue Ribbon), lean on your elbow, and sigh as the steam from the Cincy Mac slowly wafted up into your nostrils and rejuvenated you.

The only problem with it, really, was the macaroni and cheese itself, which had the sort of rubbery consistency of a Type I mac.  So, after the restaurant closed, I decided I’d recreate it.  My way.

I hunted around for a multitude of recipes, since the owner of Cinner’s flatly refused to give me his.  And after an afternoon of kinda-hectic recipe testing with Carolyn (Sorry I was a jerk, honey), I came up with a recipe.  Well, two recipes.

See, there’s not so much artistry or variation in the technique of making a chili – you brown the meat, you cook the onions and garlic, and then you throw everything into the pot and let it simmer for hours.  No, the true art of any chili recipe is the spice mix.  Which is why I made two of them.  But both of them involve chili powder, which is its own thing – it’s the magical moment, for me, when a chile, with an e, takes its first step toward chili, with an i.

David’s Homemade Weapons-Grade Chili Powder
Less a recipe and more a set of ratios – make as much as you want


  • 1 part Ancho chiles
  • 1 part Pasilla chiles
  • 1/2 part to 1/4-part Árbol chiles – these chiles are very hot.  The half-part ratio was hot for me and I have an iron tongue.  However, in the chili itself, the heat mellowed.  But beware, is what I’m saying, because this stuff is hot.
  • 1/10th part cumin seeds – just throw in a teaspoon or two.  Nobody’s going to judge you for not doing it by weight.  I’m not, at least.


1. Cut the chiles into small strips with a kitchen scissors.  Keep the seeds, if you like fun.  Discard them if you don’t.  Over very gentle heat, toast the ingredients in a large skillet, stirring frequently, until the chiles are fragrant and the cumin seeds are lightly browned – about five minutes.  Be careful not to lean over the skillet while the chiles are toasting, because the volatile compounds that come off those chiles will HURT YOUR FACE.  There’s a reason they call it pepper spray.  It’s because it comes from hot peppers.

So good, but oooogh how it hurts.

2.  Let the chiles and cumin cool, and then grind it in a spice grinder or small food processor.  You could also grind them in a mortar and pestle, but that would also take a while.  Do that if you’ve got a really big mortar and pestle, and if you just plan to sit with the thing between your knees while you watch half an hour of television.

Blend the crap out of it.  It'll take a few minutes.

Me, I think it’s easier this way.  Although maybe that’s because nobody has ever given me an enormous mortar and pestle.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you breathe the vapors that come out of the blender when you open it.  You will cough for half an hour.

3.  Bag it and tag it.  Taste it, too, on the tip of the finger, and close your eyes and blink back the tears as a sweet scourge of flame lashes your tongue.  This is the moment that chile becomes chili.  Know it well.


Now, with that made, we can continue on with the two spice mixes.  One is milder, and one is more powerful – not necessarily more spicy, but just bolder and more overstated.  To that end, I have named one Team Classico, pictured here:

These are some of my favorite pictures, actually.

And I named the other Team Hypa-Spice.

I spent way too long trying to portion out the spices into those little bowls.

Both recipes contain chocolate, clove, cinnamon, chili powder, and allspice, but in different quantities.  The (unsweetened!) baker’s chocolate is important, because it gives a deep, mellow bitterness to the whole dish – it wouldn’t be the same without it.  So! Let’s get to the real fun.

Cincy Mac

A schema-breaking chili!

The Setup

Option A.  Team Classico Spice Mix

  • 1 tablespoon Homemade Weaponsgrade Chili Powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt


Option B.  Team Hypa-Spice Spice Mix

  • 2 tablespoons Homemade Weaponsgrade Chili Powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt

They’re not all that different – it’s just that some of the proportions are doubled, and it makes a pretty big difference in the pot.  I prefer Team Hypa-Spice, but that’s my tastes.  You may prefer something a little less in-your-face.  (Although how else do you eat food?  Okay wait I don’t need to know.)

The Heist

  • 1 recipesworth of either Team Classico or Team Hypa-Spice
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, plus another for raw onion topping (optional)
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, for topping (optional, but what’s wrong with you?)
  • 1 recipesworth of Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese


1. First, measure out all of your spices.  Put the dry spices into one bowl – the liquids in another, and leave the garlic on the cutting board because it’s going to be used soon.  You can use the time it takes to cook the ground beef to put your spices away.


2. In a large pot, cook the ground beef until brown.  Drain the fat and set aside – reserve a tablespoon or two of fat for the next step.

3.  Return the pot to the heat and add back some of the drained-off fat; cook the onions (and the garlic from the spice mix) until soft and translucent.  Return the beef to the pot.

No matter what else happens in my kitchen, this is still one of my favorite smells.

4.  Here, you could either A) transfer everything into a crockpot, add the spices and liquids, and cook, on low, for 4-6 hours, or B) add the spices, liquids, bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours on the stovetop.  Why so long?  The spices need to get all integrated, the beef basically needs to be falling apart, and any variable texture should be gone.  It should be a molten lava-sauce.THE SPICE MUST FLOW.
  This must cook FOREVER.

5.  Make the macaroni and cheese as directed, and top with the Cincy Mac!  Don’t forget to pull out the bay leaves.


6. High five!  You made some awesome-ass Cincy Mac.

7.  You could also just make spaghetti instead of the macaroni and cheese, and have yourself a merry little four-way:

Have yourself a merry little four-way; let your plate fill up, but don't come crying when there's not enouuuuugh.  Serve it up over olden spaghetti, lovely golden spaghetti... okay never mind.

I think my Cincy-Style chili could stand to be a little more sauce-like, in that I’ve seen other recipes that add a few cups of water to it to ease along the braising, but I really like it at this consistency.  It coats pasta well and it’s not too wet.

Oh, and I asked: Carolyn’s never been to Cincinnati.  Did someone say ROAD TRIP?

But seriously, Cincinnati residents: let me know if I’ve scrawled heresy all over your city’s dish.  Better yet, let me know if something’s missing from my recipe.

Happy cooking, everyone!


So, with the onset of the colder months, like I’ve been saying, I think it’s time to hunker down.  The winds of winter are going to slice through the cracks between the wall and the windows, shred through your clothes, and freeze your blood, so you might as well fill yourself with food that keeps you warm.  To that end, I’ve decided to begin a new series on macaroni and cheese.

Actually, I think this was Editor Girlfriend’s idea.  Carolyn’s really good at saying, “Hey!  You should write about Thing X,” and providing an excellent rationale for it.  It’s not like she tricks me into thinking that something was my idea in the first place (that’s not her style), but she can just be very quietly persuasive.  Anyway, one of my most popular recipes on the blog is my Thai Red Curry Macaroni and Cheese.  I didn’t advertise it or anything; people just find it through Google searches.  And I want to provide recipes that people are looking for.  So I’m doin’ this series.  Let’s get to it!

Here comes everybody!  Also, that macaroni is whole wheat, yo.

There are three schools of mac and cheese in this country:

Type I: Blue-box Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  You cook the pasta, you drain the pasta, you add milk and a powder mix.  This stuff is well-loved for its comfort value, but I didn’t grow up on it, so I find it rather grainy, gummy, and glossy in that plasticky way, for my tastes.  Besides, making it barely counts as cooking.  But it is in a class of its own, and I’m sure it’s by far the most popular school of mac and cheese in the United States.  From 2008 to 2010, sales of packaged macaroni and cheese rose by 25%.

Type II: Macaroni Casserole.  You undercook the pasta, drain and rinse it, and toss it in a cheesy, eggy custard, and pour it in a casserole pan, dust the top with bread crumbs, and bake it until it firms up.  This is the sort of macaroni and cheese you’re the most likely to be served in a restaurant, because it’s really easy to do the prep on it, portion it out, and “bake it off” in individual servings.  It’s also easy to do in a cafeteria setting, because you can do exactly the same thing with an enormous aluminum tray of the stuff as you could with a single ramekin.  It’ll keep in the fridge, unchanged, for hours or even days until it needs to be baked.

Type III: Stovetop Macaroni.  I like to imagine that this was the version that Thomas Jefferson commissioned in 1802, although it is most assuredly not.  It was, however, in the early 19th century that Antonin Carême developed his classifications of the Four Mother Sauces, which Éscoffier would later revise and expand into five sauces.  Stovetop macaroni is dressed with a Mornay sauce, which is a cheesy version of the milk-and-roux-based Béchamel mother sauce.  This is the version we’re gonna be working with.

This is going to become a series on macaroni and cheese, and so a number of recipes are going to be referring back to this page quite often.  After a lot of testing, I have determined that this is, to be certain, my master recipe for Stovetop Mac and Cheese.  I may, at some point in this series, try and come up with a good Type II recipe, or even a Type I knockoff (although I don’t think I have the materials and wherewithal to make cheese powder.  I could be wrong! I haven’t even begun to research that.).  But I’m going to stick with Type III for now.

I’m not going to wax political for particularly long here, but I think the global recession has affected our stomachs.  It may just be how it looks from where I’m standing, but El Bullí is closed now.  It’s not 2007 anymore, and although sous-vide cookery is probably here to stay, and it’s still a nine-month wait to eat at The French Laundry, I think the era of conspicuously consumptive food is over.  At least until the next boom cycle.  America is aching – hurt, unemployed, uninsured, unhappy.  Now is the time for meatloaf, macaroni, cupcakes.  We just want a little comfort, something to take solace in while, bruised and brooding, we sit, blanket-huddled, with our friends and loved ones.  Something to allay the gnawing feeling that nothing’s going right for you.

Well.  I’m looking out for you, America.  Mac and Cheese is food for a period for austerity, but it sure as hell won’t feel like it.  Not the way I make it.  Make this recipe, close your eyes, take a bite, and allow yourself to feel, for a moment, that things are going to be okay.  Then lift your head high, get out there, and kick some ass.

Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

The Setup

You will need:

  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/4 of a medium onion – about 1/4 cup, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk, any type of fat (I used skim and it was fine.)
  • 3 ounces, by weight, sharp cheddar cheeze
  • 1 ounce (by weight) of parmesan cheese (or 1/2 teaspoon salt)
  • 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni noodles
  • a 2-quart saucepan
  • a 6-quart pasta pot
  • a colander

The Heist

1. First, do your mise-en-place.  Dice the celery and the onion very small – 1/8th-inch dice, if you’re up for it.  Hell, if you can, brunoise them.  Why not, right?  And mince the garlic, too.  Measure everything out now, because sauce-making can be kind of tetchy work, and you want to have your full attention on making sure nothing burns, so what’s the harm?  Measure your flour, your milk, and your cheeses.

Yeah, that's totally not a brunoise.  I didn't say I was that good.

2.  Start heating the pasta water, too.

3.  Melt the butter in your saucepan and cook the aromatics (the celery, the garlic, and the onion), stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until the onion is translucent and smells cooked – approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

Carolyn says that the celery kind of gives the whole thing a very faint white wine taste.  I'm not sure I disagree.

4.  Add in the flour, and stir briskly until everything begins to come together in a chunky paste, about two minutes’ worth of stirring.

Like that!

5.  Add the milk, and stir briskly (but not overexuberantly!) for about a minute or so, until all the lumps of roux-paste are gone.  Continue to stir and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the point where it coats the back of your spoon or spatula.

Here's your completed béchamel!  It should exhibit this kind of coat-a-bility.

6.  Give the nearest person a high-five.

7.  You may wish to season the mixture further, here.  I’ve added a teaspoon of homemade chili powder.  For funsies.

We'll cover how to make that chili powder in another entry.  I promise.

8.  Once thickened, kill the heat and mix in the cheddar cheese and parmesan (or salt, if you don’t have –  or want to use – parmesan).  Stir until it’s all incorporated and melted.

Other recipes want you to add way more cheese.  I think this is overkill, and something can only taste so cheesy, honestly.  It's just not going to get super powerful in a creamy sauce like this - that's just not really the way butterfat or milk interacts with the tongue - everything is kind of diffuse.  You want intense, pointed flavor?  Make a cheese sorbet.Actually, if you make a cheese sorbet, I will be frigging impressed.  I want that recipe, if you've got it.

9.  Cook and drain your pasta, and then plop it all in! You’re done.

Le plop.

10.  Eat with pride.  You’re going to come through this just fine.  There’s macaroni and cheese and you’ve made it.  We’re all going to make it.

The macaroni wants you to be happy.  You can do it!

Happy cooking.