Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off: Chef Alexandra Feswick's Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese

Organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada, the 2016 edition of the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off (#CDNCheeseCookOff) took place at the Toronto Food & Drink Market on April 8th. Four of Canada’s top chefs from coast to coast took the stage in an attempt to create the ultimate gourmet mac & cheese. The competitors included Andrew Farrell, Chef de Cuisine at 2 Doors Down Food + Wine in Halifax; Alexandra Feswick, Chef de Cuisine at The Drake Hotel in Toronto; Nicole Gomes, Executive Chef at Nicole Gourmet in Calgary; and Thompson Tran, Chef and Owner at The Wooden Boat, Port Moody.

Photo: Dairy Farmers of Canada

Chef Feswick's "Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese" emerged victorious in the culinary comfort food battle. Feswick's winning recipe combines the distinctive nostalgia of home-styled comfort classics such as Cheddar, sage and mushrooms, with flavours of hazelnuts, Blue cheese and Jerusalem artichokes. Check out a quick two-minute recap of the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off here:

Thanks to Dairy Farmers of Canada, I was sent all the goodies needed to make chef Feswick's winning Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese. This is incredibly exciting because it has been a very long time since I've made, and enjoyed, a delicious gourmet mac & cheese.

Rich and cheesy with a light, crunchy topping, this Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese is what dreams are made of. The medley of Canadian cheeses - 7-year-old Cheddar, Niagara Gold, Blue d'Elizabeth and Alpindon - with the mushroom & artichoke infused sauce lend a depth of flavour and creaminess unlike any other mac & cheese I've ever had. Baked in a glass dish until golden-topped and bubbly, the finishing touch of breadcrumbs and toasted hazelnuts brings a delightful crunch to this guaranteed crowd pleaser. The Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese is certainly not the quickest nor easiest mac & cheese recipe out there, but trust me, the time and effort is well worth it!

NUTTY HOME-STYLE MAC & CHEESE - By Chef Alexandra Feswick

Photo: Dairy Farmers of Canada

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Cooking Time: about 48 minutes
Baking Time: about 40 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

1 lb (500 g) Jerusalem artichokes, divided
2 tsp (10 mL) vegetable oil
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
3 cups (750 mL) 2% milk, divided
1 1/2 cups (375) 35% whipping cream, divided
1 pkg (150 g) Beech mushrooms, trimmed and separated (about 2 cups/500 mL)
1/4 cup (50 mL) unsalted butter
3 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each ground nutmeg and black pepper
1 lb (500 g) cavatelli pasta
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) shredded Canadian 7-year-old Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) shredded Niagara Gold cheese
2/3 cups (150 mL) crumbled Blue d'Elizabeth cheese
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Alpindon cheese

1 cup (250 mL) panko breadcrumbs, toasted
1/2 cup (125 mL) toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup (60 mL) chiffonade or finely chopped parsley
3 tbsp (45 mL) finely shredded Alpindon cheese
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped sage
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 F (160 C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, toss half of the whole, unpeeled Jerusalem artichokes with oil and salt. Placed on prepared baking sheet and roast for 35 minutes or until artichokes are soft, easily poked with fork. Place roasted artichokes in blender with 1/2 cup (125 mL) of milk and 1/2 cup (125 mL) of cream; blend on high until smooth. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine remaining milk and cream, heat over medium heat until bubbles start to form around the edge of the saucepan and steaming about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, dice remaining Jerusalem artichokes into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces. Add to heated milk and cream mixture and cook over low heat until soft when poked with a fork, about 20 minutes. Strain Jerusalem artichokes and reserve milk and cream mixture. Return milk and cream mixture into saucepan; add mushrooms and cook on low heat until mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Strain mushrooms and reserve milk and cream mixture.
5. In a clean medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in flour until fully incorporated. Stirring constantly with wooden spoon, cook for 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in reserved milk and cream mixture, nutmeg and pepper. Simmer on low heat, constantly stirring until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of spoon, about 20 minutes.
6. In large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and spread on parchment lined baking sheet; set aside. Preheat oven to high broil.

7. Remove sauce from heat and whisk in one at a time the Cheddar, Niagara Gold and Blue d'Elizabeth cheeses (the sauce will be thick and stringy with milted cheese). Stir in reserved Jerusalem artichoke puree.

8. In large pot, mix together sauce, pasta and reserved Jerusalem artichokes and mushrooms until well combined. Transfer into a 13x9-inch (3 L) glass baking dish and sprinkle with Alpindon cheese. Broil on middle rack, until bubbly and top is crispy, about 5 minutes.

9. Topping: In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, nuts, parsley, Alpindon cheese, sage and salt. Sprinkle over hot pasta in dish. Serve and enjoy!

Chef Tip: Combining the pasta with the cheese sauce while they're both hot helps guarantee a moist and creamy mac and cheese.

Cheese lovers can access each of the four contestant's mac & cheese recipes by visiting

Before I go, I want to leave you with a few interesting Mac & Cheese facts :)

1. Cheddar cheese is the most widely-made cheese in the world and a favourite of Canadians. It's also the most popular cheese used to make mac & cheese

2. In 1993, Crayola named one of its crayon colours "macaroni and cheese"

3. The recommended wine to serve with classic mac & cheese is Burgundy wine.

4. Canadians eat more mac & cheese per person than any other country in the world.

5. In the Caribbean, mac & cheese is called "macaroni pie"; in Australia and New Zealand, it's called "macaroni cheese".

6. Traditional mac & cheese sauce is made by blending cheese (like Cheddar, Havarti, or Monterey Jack) with a Bechamel sauce made from milk, flour and butter.

7. The world's largest mac & cheese dish, made in 2010, weighed almost 2,500 lbs.

8. In 1937, packaged mack & cheese was introduced in Canada and the United States. Sixty years later, it became the most-purchased grocery item in Canada.