So Much Pasta, So Little Time

The 3rd Annual New Hampshire’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake Off takes place this Saturday, January 19. The challenge is that your $10 gives you three of the best hours (2- 5 pm) to walk through the door of the Courtyard Marriot at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord and sample the abundance of the most creative, cheesiest, tastiest (and one of the most popular) dishes of comfort foods. It seems this combination (of macaroni and cheese) has once again achieved a surge in popularity where it is now served in the most trendiest and popular of places.

Granite State Dairy Promotion is once again sponsoring this hugely popular event to highlight and support the vast array of dairy producing farms in New Hampshire. Their mission: to increase the sale and use of milk and other dairy products through promotional activities, nutritional education and to enhance the image of the dairy industry in New Hampshire.

Once upon a time pasta and cheese casseroles were found in cookbooks going back to medieval times. Fresh hand-cut pasta was sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese and presented to the upper class until about the 18th century. It was fashionable in Paris in the late 18th century. President Thomas Jefferson served a macaroni pie at a state dinner having tasted macaroni in Italy and Paris years before he came to the White House. As factory production made it affordable and accessible to everyone, macaroni and cheese lost its upper class appeal.

Since that time the dish seemed to have made its way across the southern states in America becoming a popular staple in many cookbooks. Now every American family more than likely has their favorite mac and cheese dish. It was traditional fare back in the day when families had one bread winner and creative means were used by the home maker to ‘stretch a buck’. The ‘blue box’ made it into many households when kids discovered a quick and easy meal they could easily prepare.

New Hampshire’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off has seriously taken the challenge once again by offering average folks and professional chefs alike the opportunity to enter their best entry. The categories are: Best NH Made, Best Traditional, Most Creative or Exotic, and Best Restaurant.

I have no doubt the event will have “a standing room only, lines out the door crowd”. Never have I felt more like a cafeteria lady when doling out samples last year. I’ll be serving up my new creation titled: America’s Melting Pot Mac and Cheese. See y’all there.

Debbie Curtin writes stories about people, places, events and other topics of interest that engage the reader. As a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Debbie keeps ‘in the game’ with other like minded people. She has been an artist and creative person all her life and uses the unlimited sources of inspiration that abound everywhere in her writing as another art form.

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A Culinary Enterprise

New Hampshire’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off was once again a huge success. Saturday’s frigid temperature did not stop the throng of people who attended this popular event. The Holiday Inn in Concord saw an overflow crowd waiting patiently to sample the many varieties of one of the most popular dishes in America. They were not disappointed.

My own adventure, as one of the contestants, began in December when I caught sight of the New Hampshire Dairy Promotion article asking for entries. I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up. I did not have a recipe to offer. Let alone a real winner. But, I am one to give myself a little challenge from time to time, so I said “why not”.

I had a bee in my bonnet about using Cheez-its somehow in my recipe (that I did not have). The deadline for submitting the recipe before the event was in a week. This meant I had to get it together and come up with something palatable in short order. I needed to experiment, so I used a version of the Cheez-its, flour and butter to make a pie crust with a creamy macaroni filling. It was like a brick. Very bad. Not one to panic, I thought about it for a while, and came up with a bright idea. Still, I kept the Cheez-it idea in the back of my mind. The category I chose to enter was “NH Made”. This meant I had to use any milk and cheese from NH farms. No problem. Now I needed the ‘something different’ to make the dish creative and new.

One evening in making dinner, I was thinking of butternut squash ravioli. I only had cheese ravioli since the butternut squash was a specialty item and not readily available. But I made a sauce with the butternut squash I had and it was very, very good. This is what I was using for the contest. It became clear to me that the category I chose, NH Made, meant more.

A few of the specialty items (among others) I used in the NH Made category to create my entry. Mack's Apples butternut squash and Hank Peterson's maple syrup are also part of my secret recipe!

As I delved more into the list of ingredients for my dish, I decided I would put as much ‘New Hampshire’ as I was able into my one dish. With that in mind I went to Mack’s Apples for my butternut squash. While there I spied heavy cream in the refrigerator from Contookook Creamery and Buhanan Farms. I knew I was out of maple syrup so I picked up a pint from Peterson’s Sugar House. Stonyfield was the obvious choice for the milk I needed.

Now, the cheeses were a different story. Looking at the cheese maker’s guild map I figured I would go to Hickory Nut Farm in Lee, NH and pick up what I needed straight from the farm since it was closest. I was running out of time but needed these last few crucial ingredients. My friend Denise and I headed out on our adventure surely having enough time before I went to work. Let’s just say we finally found our way. (It was like that hot and cold game).

Donna Lee and Phil Woods have found their niche in goat milk products. We headed into the cheese cave which had racks of curing cheeses of all different creative combinations such as terrene, and lacey white. Donna experiments trying new combinations all the time. She is contemplating using coffee in one variety. They feed their ‘ladies’ local hay and are very passionate and involved in the local agriculture and at the state level. We were treated to a mini taste sampling, I picked my favorites and we left having enjoyed time in and around the farm with goats, sheep and chickens all happily getting along.

It was now Saturday morning; crunch time. I had already prepared the squash, the special Cheez-it/bread crumb topping, toasted the mixed nuts as another topping, and cooked the pasta. Now, for the cheese sauce. I did not experiment with the goat cheese. I was really winging it and for a big deal contest no less. My sisters were to arrive in one hour. Everything needed to be hot and ready to go. The sauce was a challenge. Making it in two batches, having a taste test with my daughter, Tristen and she helped me decide. Talk about the 11th hour!

Debbie Curtin as she participates in the annual Mac & Cheese Event in Concord, NH.

When the doors opened to the public, the line was out the front of the building and did not stop for almost two hours. We felt like cafeteria ladies dolling out sample after sample of my deconstructed version with layers of toppings. I was happy to hear many positive comments.

We took a few minutes at one point to try some of the interesting combinations. Mmmm good! Turkey dinner? Buffalo Chicken? These were some of the winners and ‘big cheese’. There are a lot of people out there who took on this challenge. The Bake-Off was a very successful and fun event even if was a challenge. Bringing awareness to a vital way of life and the dairy industry in NH became my goal; that and sneaking in vegetables. My mother would be proud of her influence!

My recipe also used Kate’s Butter of Old Orchard, Maine and King Arthur Flour of Norwich, Vermont. Please check out Granite State Dairy Promotion for the 2012 winners and recipes of the New Hampshire’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off. “Mac and Cheese – It”  placed third in the NH Made category!

Debbie Curtin writes stories about people, places, events and other topics of interest that engage the reader. As a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Debbie keeps ‘in the game’ with other like minded people. She has been an artist and creative person all her life and uses the unlimited sources of inspiration that abound everywhere in her writing as another art form.

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New Hampshire’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off

The pressure (cooker) is on!

Once again I am throwing my hat into the ring with a new culinary creation. Last year was the first ever Mac & Cheese event hosted by the Granite State Dairy Promotion. The Holiday Inn in Concord was host location as each entrant placed their carefully created dish into prepared chafing dishes set up for the day. It was a cold day in January of 2011 as each hopeful chef met an enthusiastic crowd and what turned out to be a hugely popular and sold-out event.

Three categories are offered once again and will be filled with an assortment of the classic pasta dish: NH Made, Most Creative or Exotic, and Most Cheesiest.

A few of the specialty items (among others) I will be using in the NH Made category to create my entry. Mack's Apples butternut squash and Hank Peterson's maple syrup is also part of my secret recipe!

The non-profit, Granite State Dairy Promotion is funded by dairy farmers. Their mission is to increase the sale and use of milk and other dairy products through promotional activities, nutrition activities, and to enhance the image of the dairy industry.

Long before the blue box became a staple in many American homes, the English, Italian and other cultures created pasta and cheese dishes centuries ago. Thomas Jefferson brought back a version from France and Europe, serving it in the White House. GSDP will be creating a little bit of history with this unique event.

Doors open at 2 pm on Saturday, January 14, 2012 for the 2nd annual NH’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off. Ten bucks will get you in to sample as much mac & cheese created and served to you every which way. You will be also be supporting an important way of life for each of us who appreciate the Granite State. Come early and vote! YOU decide who gets to be the big cheese of the day! See you there!

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