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THE CHEESECAST WEDGE #9: Holiday Cooking with Kirk!

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Kirk and Daine take the show not very far down the road to the Pavloski Podcast Palace to cook up some cheesey meals to share with you and yours this holiday cheese-on!

Listen along as Kirk cooks some Skillet Mac and Cheese and Cheese Soup, Daine and Kirk gab about their cheesey lives and they give out some tips for having a zero-waste cheeseboard! 

Remember, you can always find The Cheesecast online at, on Facebook @cheesecastpodcast and on Twitter and Instagram @cast_cheese!


Skillet Mac and Cheese

This is the way we did it on Wedge 9; the core recipe is from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI, and is available in a variety of places on the web. Variations are below.

2 T unsalted butter

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1 bay leaf

2 T AP flour

2 c milk

1 T dijon mustard

1 pound grated cheddar cheese

1 pound rigatoni

kosher salt or sea salt

freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt the water. (I do a tablespoon of salt for a gallon of water.)

As you start to make the sauce, dump the pasta in the boiling water; stir the pasta every now and then to keep it from sticking. You're aiming for your pasta to be slightly undercooked.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch non-stick skillet.

Add the onion and the bay leaf; sauté until the onion is soft. Remove the bay leaf.

Add the flour and thoroughly incorporate into the melted butter. Cook for about a minute or two to get that nasty raw flour flavor gone.

Pour in the milk, not all at once, and stir until combined. Add the mustard. Watch your temperature on your burner: you want the sauce to come to a simmer (bubbles just breaking the surface). Once it starts to bubble, sprinkle in the cheese by handfuls. Stir until melted, then add another handful. 

Scoop about a cup of the starchy, salty pasta out of the pot. Just use a coffee cup.

Drain the pasta. Don't worry about getting all the water out of it.

Pour the pasta into the pan with the sauce. Stir to incorporate the pasta into the sauce.

Add the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce up til you get to the consistency you want. Keep stirring.

If you want to get some brown crusty cheese in your mac and cheese, then ramp up the heat and serve. Taste for salt and pepper.

Variations (you can mix and match the first 7 of these):

Sauté 1/4 pound of chopped bacon until it's brown and wonderful. Set the bacon aside and cook the onions in the rendered fat. Add the bacon just before serving or let the bacon rain down on the dishes after you've served it up.

Cook boneless chicken breasts or thighs in the skillet. Add the butter to the pan and then the onions. Slice the bird and top each serving of mac and cheese with 1/4 pound (more) of protein.

A la Grand River Brewery in Jackson, MI, top your mac and cheese with pulled pork.

Garnish with chopped tomatoes.

Add a pound of fresh, washed and dried spinach to the skillet after you dump in the pasta. You'll have to do this in batches as the spinach wilts down.

Add roasted red peppers. 

Add some peas (fresh or frozen, never canned).

Instead of 2 C of milk, do 1 1/2 and 1/2 c heavy cream (this is how Zingerman's does it).

Swap the whole milk for cashew milk.

Add about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne to the sauce if you want a little heat on the back end.

You can use one kind of cheese or you can mix and match. Keep an eye on the salt, though: some cheeses are really salty. I would avoid blues and not go overboard on the goats.

Cheese Soup

We did this in one pot on the wedge; this is the way I do it at home, so the process is a little different. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or fourpled, depending on how big your cauldron is.

In a large pot (4 quart at least; a Dutch oven would be great), heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil or butter. 

Add about a cup each diced onion, diced celery, and diced carrot, along with a bay leaf. Sauté until the onion is soft. Add a couple cloves of garlic, minced. Stir for about a minute.

Pour in 2 cups of chicken broth. If you didn't make it yourself, use low-sodium stuff. Bring that to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer.

In a 1 1/2 or 2 quart pot, melt 2 T of butter. Add 2 T of flour and stir to make a roux. Cook this, stirring constantly, for at least a minute. Add 2 c milk, not all at once: stir to incoroprate the milk into the roux as you go. Once all the milk is in, keep heating it until it's good and hot but not boiling, like for hot chocolate. Stir regularly. It will thicken up because of the flour, and you don't want it to stick or scorch.

When the milk is hot, start adding in 2 cups of grated cheese. I typically go for a mix: sharp cheddars, smoked cheese, maybe some parmesan, a nice Jack. Whatever floats your boat.

When the cheese is all melted in, add a slug of Worchestershire sauce (probably this is about a tablespoon). Stir regularly. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Pour the cheese sauce into the pot with the simmering chicken broth. Stir. Taste it for salt and pepper. If you're Daine, ladle the soup into a big old mug and start to drinking.

Goes great with crusty bread and a nine green salad with a lemon/olive oil dressing.


If you want a thicker soup, add more cheese. If you want a thinner soup, add more broth (take it up to 4 c). If you're doing larger batches, just keep the basic ratio in mind: 2 T butter, 2 T flour, 2 c milk, 2 c cheese, 2 c broth. 

You can add additional vegetables to the broth after it comes up to heat: diced potatoes or squash (zucchini, cusa or yellow), peas, kale (why I don't know, but it's your soup, so go ahead), sliced mushrooms, chopped tomatoes. Don't just dump them in all at once -- these will cook at different rates, so by the time a potato bit is cooked that poor little squash bit will be moosh.

Add a glug of white wine to the sauté before you pour in the broth. Do not use anything called "cooking wine." You can get a decent Sauvignon blanc for under 10 bucks at a decent grocery store, and if you chill it down ahead of time, you can have wine with your dinner.

Instead of cayenne, use ground chipotle. Or use crushed red pepper. Remember, you can't take away heat, so add in bits and taste as you go.

If you want more protein in your life, you could add a cup or two of diced, cooked chicken to the soup. You could add some of those pre-cooked little meatballs to the soup. If you like shrimp, peel and devein a pound of raw shrimp. Add them to the soup once everything is mixed together. Put a lid on the pot, turn off the heat, and walk away for five minutes. No peeking. The shrimp will gently cook in the hot liquid and not get all tough on you.

Just before serving, stir in a bit of sherry (not cooking sherry) or sherry vinegar. Don't go overboard: 2 T of sherry vinegar will add a nice sharp edge to the entire pot. 

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