I have to apologize in advance, but this post has no final product photo, only several from the making of the dish. Blame it on the fact that we could not wait to dig in. It was just that good!
Almost exactly one year ago, I joined forces with Folio Weekly to become the host and writer of the Bite Club and Bite Club Blog. When I moved to Jacksonville, I wrote to several local newspapers and magazines with the hopes of becoming an affiliated food blogger. Folio Weekly answered first, and told me they had hopes to begin a dining group but didn't know where to start. We met several times, and decided that the best way to go about it was to pick a restaurant each month, have a menu tasting meal, and then I would photograph and blog about the event. We thought a blog seemed most fitting for the group because it's in real time, it's interactive, and I had two years of blogging experience.
The first few events went really well, and were learning experiences for me. I discovered what types of events worked best, what style of menu and service was ideal, and how to keep the focus on food. In addition to hosting the events, I also provided restaurant profiles on the blog where I would dine at a new, local place and blog about the experience and food. There were definitely perks to the job, I was invited to many events and restaurant openings, but it also took up much of my time. Of course food is my passion, but at my core, I am a home cook, and dining out isn't always feasible for my budget, schedule, and eating preferences.
One of the restaurants I was invited to was III Forks, a steakhouse. At the time I was still a once-in-a-while-meat-eater, but I've never been a steak girl. So while everyone else ordered steaks and seafood, I hit the sides, and I hit them hard! Our server told me that their Macaroni and Cheese is phenomenal, and you never have to ask my husband if he wants mac and cheese twice, so we chose to split that. The macaroni and cheese was so creamy and had a wonderful balance of flavor. I asked the server what cheeses made up the dish. I expected him to say it's a chef secret, but he gladly told me Brie and Gruyère. Those are my two favorite cheeses, without a doubt.
So if you've noticed, I've been writing about my tenure as Bite Club host in the past tense. About a month ago, after much thought, I decided to resign from the position. It was a hard decision, but ultimately it just didn't seem right for me to be writing about the dishes we were served at restaurants when I was barely eating anything (most dishes are meat-centered). I also thought the fact that I don't eat out often and couldn't really give restaurant recommendations was a disservice to the credibility of the position.
I told my editor and publisher, and as anyone would wish, they asked me to reconsider. I had made up my mind though, and told them I knew a perfect replacement. I met Caron through Bite Club, and couldn't think of a better host. She has practically dined at every Jacksonville restaurant, will eat just about anything, and is hugely into social media (maybe she'll even tweet this post - haha!). I invited her and her boyfriend to dinner so we could go over the position, and thought it would be fitting to make a rendition of the III Forks Mac and Cheese, one of my highlights from the past year as Bite Club host. I am sad to be leaving the position, but know it will be in good hands!
Tips and Trades:
-Quality ingredients mean most delicious dishes. If you're making this for company, splurge on the cheese for this and choose a less expensive appetizer and salad (I made bruschetta and a spinach salad)
-Though this dish is rich, try making it with whole wheat pasta, Whole Foods has a wide variety of whole wheat shapes!
Gruyère and Brie Macaroni and Cheese
inspired by III Forks Steak and Seafood
8 oz. whole wheat pasta, small cut or shape
4 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, grated
Salt and ground white pepper
3 tbsp. unbleached whole wheat flour
2 c. 2% milk
1 tsp. ground mustard
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 oz. grated Gruyère cheese
4 oz. Brie, finely cubed
1/4 c. coarse, seasoned breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 400*
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt heavily, add pasta.
Cook pasta 8-10 minutes, or until al dente.
Drain and pour into a casserole dish.
Heat a stockpot over medium heat.
Add butter and grated onion, sauté for 2-3 minutes, season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle in flour, whisk and cook for a minute.
Add milk, whisk and bring to a light simmer.
Add mustard and cayenne, whisk.
Add Gruyère and 3 oz. of the Brie cubes, turn heat off.
Use a spatula and gently stir in figure 8's.
When cheese is melted, taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Pour over noodles, stir to distribute.
Dot with extra Brie cubes, sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned on top.
Some dot their mac and cheese with butter... I opt for Brie!