Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.
But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Only come once a year.
-Krokodil Gena, “Birthday Song”
We do a thing in my family where, on your birthday, you get to choose the spread for dinner – and no one can complain about it. My birthday rolled around this year and I was faced with a dilemma. See, what I want for dinner is a bloody chunk of ribeye, a 22 ounce bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and some cheesy mashed potatoes. Preferably, someone else will prepare it for me, and someone else will foot the bill for it, too.
Herein lies the dilemma. If I want that, I have to do all the work, which diminishes my enjoyment of the meal by a fair margin. Second, it’s hardly a present if you have to pay for it yourself, and considering the popularity of slave wages at my current place of employment, dropping 100 bucks on steaks for my family is pretty much not going to happen without me selling a kidney or skipping the mortgage for a month. And let’s face it, with the abuse my body takes from coffee and beer, I need both of my kidneys, and I think the wife and kids would take a pretty dim view of being homeless.
So I didn’t get that birthday dinner. I had to improvise. Enter a lazy man standby from Stouffers: Family Size Macaroni and Cheese. At 8 or 9 bucks per tray, the price is about as high as I can go. The kids like it, and I think it is OK. The problem is, over the last few years, they seem to have cost-reduced the cheese right out of the stuff and it’s been getting soupier and soupier, which I don’t like so much. And, there comes a time when I’m so damn depressed that the idea of same old same old food just doesn’t taste good. So I decided to try something new.
Anyone familiar with the product knows that you can microwave it or bake it and you get almost the same product either way. I can’t settle for that though, so I fired up the grill and added some mesquite chips to the fire.
I then proceeded to bake this Mac and Cheese for about 90 minutes on med-low heat on the old Weber Genesis, rotating every 15 minutes. I pulled it off the grill when the sauce in the middle of the tray was bubbling and the edges were slightly browned.
This doesn’t photo that well, but here ya go:
The end result is a startlingly delicious version of an old favorite. The subtle smoke enhances the cheddar cheese and increases the complexity of an otherwise fairly bland, straightforward dish.
Further experimentation with the concept indicates that if you wet the mesquite chips, the smoke flavor becomes overpowering and the dish becomes pretty gross, so don’t do that. When smoking cheesy food, less is more. You can add a salsa garnish, sauteed jalapenos and onions, or chopped bacon if you want to further expand on the idea, as well. All have been well received by my entire family.