Sunday was Brandon's first Father's Day, so I decided to make him something really special - Mac & Cheese. It's one of his favorite things to eat, and one of my least favorite. When we were first married, he came home from the grocery store one day with 10 boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. "It was on sale," he announced, proudly. "Buy five, get five free."
"Yeah, but 10 boxes? How are we going to eat all that? It's powdered cheese."
"What are you talking about? I grew up on this stuff."
Now, I'm fourth-generation Asian American, and I grew up eating rice balls wrapped in seaweed, Chinese jook and fried rice with spicy, pickled mustard greens. But as I said, my family has lived in this country for four generations, so my mom also made a lot of spaghetti, meat loaf and, my personal favorite, corned beef and cabbage.
But not macaroni and cheese, and definitely not out of a box.
Then a couple weeks before Father's Day I was watching "Barefoot Contessa" and was inspired to make a more sophisticated, grown-up version of Brandon's favorite comfort food. Ina's Truffle Mac & Cheese was sure to blow Kraft out of our cupboard for good.
First, I had to make sure I could get my hands on truffle butter. Apparently, they sell the stuff online, but I was able to find a 3 oz. package of black truffle butter at a specialty food store near my home for a whopping $10. I didn't even want to think about how many boxes of Kraft I could buy with 10 bucks.
"I know what I'm going to make you for Father's Day," I told Brandon one evening while we were watching TV.
"Oh yeah? What?"
"I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to wait and see."
Brandon started pestering me days before. "So what's for dinner?" he asked, striving for nonchalance, as we drove home from the Farmers' Market.
"Don't worry," I assured him when he asked for the third time. "You're going to like it. Trust me."
"It's something I like, or something you think I'm going to like?" he probed.
"It's something you like, but with a twist."
Except for fresh mushrooms, which I found at the Farmers' Market, I had everything else already in my pantry. I started cooking about about an hour before my parents were due to arrive. I sauteed the mushrooms and set them aside, and once I got water boiling for the pasta, I started scalding the milk. So far so good.
I got nervous once the truffle butter hit the hot pan, and I began whisking in flour for the roux. The earthy aroma wafting over the stove top served as a constant reminder not to screw up this mother sauce, or I'd be throwing the mother of all fits.
But the bechamel turned out creamy and smooth. I knew it was done once I ran my finger along the back of the wooden spoon and the sauce didn't immediately cover over the drawn line.
Typically, I like to tinker with recipes and add my own twist. But I'd never made macaroni and cheese before. It's not even something I've eaten very much, so I decided to stick to Ina's exacting instructions.
Both the surprise and the dish itself were hugely successful. Even after I carried my jadeite casserole platter to the table, Brandon was still trying to figure out what I'd made since the macaroni was disguised by toasted breadcrumbs.
"This is the best mac & cheese I've ever had," he exclaimed, after he'd had a few bites. "The truffle butter makes a big difference."
This recipe was so good, even I've become a mac & cheese fan.