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Baked crab & spinach macaroni 'n' cheese

Believe me or not, the last time I had macaroni and cheese or (UK: Macaroni cheese) that I can recall was when I was a teenager. I learn the basic macaroni and cheese during my domestic science class in secondary school. I made once at home and my mom really liked it but since this is a rather heavy dish and the way that I learnt to make the sauce did not seem that easy to make it to a smooth sauce therefore I have not made it ever again until tonight. After going through some recipes, I realized that the method of making the cheese sauce I learnt at that time was not quite accurate. I added in the milk all in one go instead of bit by bit which indeed made it easier to form lumps and took much longer to make a smooth sauce.

I did not realise that there can be so many variations of Mac n’ Cheese until I read the Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese Roundup by one of my favorite food blogs- 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventure. And all of a sudden I was inspired to make my own one. By using crab, spinach, mushrooms and a bit of bacon, it did not feel heavy at all. I would definitely make this from time to time with the basic sauce below and to try with other types of cheese and ingredients.

Meanwhile, after reading the information from wikipedia, I still cannot tell which country is Macaroni cheese originated from, US, UK or Italy? Anyone knows? I have always thought it’s originated in the UK as my first encounter was using English cheddar cheese.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • macaroni 100g
  • 100g fresh or frozen crab meat
  • 50g bacon, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup champignons, cut into cubes
  • a big handful fresh young spinach (or choose the baby spinach)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • hot paprika powder (optional)
  • hot chili powder (optional)

For the Cheese Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cup semi-skimmed milk
  • 80g English cheddar cheese, grated
  • 50g Gouda cheese, grated
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

Step 1-6 are preparation work

  1. Preheat oven at 190ºC.
  2. Grease an ovenproofed ceramic baking tray with a little butter and dust with flour.
  3. Grate the cheese and set aside.
  4. Cut the bacon into small cubes if you cannot buy ready cubed ones, discard excess fat if necessary.
  5. Defrost the crab meat and squeeze to remove excess liquid
  6. Wash and drain the spinach, set aside.
  7. In a deep pan, cook the macaroni in large quantity of hot water, add a teaspoon salt in the water. Cook the macaroni to about 70 % cooked, so deduct 1-2 minutes as instructed. This is because the macaroni will continue to be cooked when baking in the oven later. When ready, drain in a colander and set aside
  8. In a non-stick saucepan, heat some olive oil at medium high heat, add in the bacon, stir fry for a while and then add in the mushrooms, keep stirring for a minute and then add in the crab meat and spinach. Stir to mix, then quickly transfer the ingredients to a bowl. Since the spinach cooks fast, it is important not to cook too long. You may find some liquid may have come out from the spinach & mushroom, discard the liquid if any.
  9. To make the roux: Wash and dry the saucepan, melt the butter in low heat, when it is melted, add in the flour and stir with a wooden spatula, you will get a big lump, gradually add in the milk bit by bit, keep stirring until you get a thick sauce without lumps.  You can increase to medium heat but not too hot. When all milk is added, you can add in two-thirds of the grated cheese, stir until all the cheese in melted. The cheese sauce is now ready, turn off the heat and add in the cooked crab & spinach mixture.
  10. Lay half of the macaroni onto the baking tray and pour in half the sauce, then lay the rest of the macaroni and pour in the remaining sauce.
  11. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 20 mins, then put a piece of aluminium foil on top of the baking tray and bake for another 15 mins, this is to avoid the macaroni from getting burnt.
  12. Remove the baking tray from the oven and sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the grated cheese on top and then grill for 5 mins to get light golden crust top.
  13. Serve when hot, you can sprinkle some hot paprika powder and/or hot chili powder to give a kick.

Enjoy while it is piping hot!

Note:

  • If you do not like the cheese topping as you find it too cheesy, you can use Panko breadcrumbs instead.
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