Last week was a pre-Chanukah fest at the high school cooking club I teach. We had deliberated what to make in honor of Chanukah – latkes, doughnuts?? Fried Mac ‘n Cheese Balls seemed to come in first place. Being the cheese-lover I am, I could not argue that the only thing better than a good, homey mac ‘n cheese is well, a fried one. During the holiday of Chanukah, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil to commemorate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil lasting for eight days in the holy Temple. The other traditional holiday food is cheese, a remembrance of the heroine Yehudit who fed the Roman general Holofernes salty cheese in order to make him thirsty, get him drunk and behead him. So you see? It’s a mitzvah to eat fried mac ‘n cheese balls (…tell that to your scale!!).
Any good, old-fashioned macaroni & cheese begins with a roux – a paste of butter and flour that is briefly cooked in order to create a lump-free thickening experience for the yummy cheese sauce your macaroni will get bathed in.
I added in whole milk for maximum creaminess and whisked until thickened, then added my seasonings and cheese to create the cheese sauce.
I could have eaten much of this pot myself but alas, it had to cool and congeal to be used at the club…(this can be done in advance if making for a party!)
Oil temperature will also save you from a greasy mess (and a whole lot of indigestion)…use a fry thermometer to achieve proper deep frying temps (between 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit). Get lots of helpers to do the breading and frying becomes a party!
Working with the club, it occurred to me that frying up foods for Chanukah is best as a communal party. Isn’t that the message of the oil – the cohesiveness of a small band of Jews who came together to take a stand for remaining true to our traditions and rededicate the Temple was what merited the miracle to happen. Frying up for a party also means that you can moderate and not eat 12 by yourself. Just sayin’.
Make it a fun time with your friends, family and neighbors this Chanukah – light up the darkness with the glow of the menorah and the joy of whatever is cooking up in your home.
Classic Macaroni & Cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over medium high heat. Add macaroni and stir; cook until al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain the noodles in a collander (rinse if making pasta in advance).
Return pot to medium-low heat and melt butter, swirling until just melted (but not browned). Add the flour and use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to stir the mixture together, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent burning; continue just until it starts to turn a light brown color (it will look like light brown paste), about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and spices; raise to medium heat and stir until the sauce thickens, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in grated cheese, whisking until completely melted into mixture. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Return the macaroni to the pot, stirring the mixture until macaroni is completely coated with the cheese sauce. Serve hot and enjoy! (For Fried Mac ‘n Cheese Balls, continue with directions below).
For a baked macaroni and cheese, pour the macaroni and cheese into a greased 9×13 baking dish and top with the panko or corn flake crumbs; Dot with additional butter. Bake uncovered at 350F degrees until light golden brown and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve hot. DO AHEAD: Macaroni and cheese can be made ahead, put into the baking dish, cooled completely, and kept, covered in the refrigerator, for 2 days. Do not add the bread crumbs until ready to bake. (Chilled Macaroni and Cheese may take a few minutes longer to cook.)
For Fried Mac ‘n Cheese Balls
Spread Mac ‘n cheese out in a large pan and refrigerate to chill and congeal for at least 2 hours. Using your hands, squeeze a handful together to form a compact ball. Roll in all-purpose flour, then beaten eggs, then cornflake or bread crumbs; place balls on waxed paper. Heat 2-3 inches of canola or vegetable oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat until reaches 350-360 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet lined with layers of paper towels for drainage; set aside. Carefully drop balls into pot in batches (do not overcrowd pan). Fry for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, turning as needed during frying. Using a slotted spoon, remove finished balls from pot and transfer to paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls, frying in batches until all are finished.