I warned you, and now it's time: If you don't want to know how At First Sight ends--did you know this was one of about four books by Nicholas Sparks that brought the author to tears?--scroll down to the dotted line.
As you may already know, At First Sight is the sequel to True Believer, the story of Jeremy and Lexie. At the end of True Believer, Lexie tells Jeremy that she's pregnant--which is a surprise to both of them, because doctors told Lexie she would never conceive children after a miscarriage she had years ago. In At First Sight, Jeremy and Lexie get married and prepare for the birth of their child--a girl, whom they've decided to name Claire. When the time comes for Lexie to give birth, they rush to the hospital were Lexie goes through a relatively uneventful labor--until at the moment of birth, something goes terribly wrong. Turns out that unbeknownst to doctors, Lexie had developed an embolism during pregnancy, and when Claire emerges into the world, the embolism travels to Lexie's heart and she dies instantly. Now Jeremy is faced with raising his daughter alone--and life without his wife, who he's only known for barely a year.
Jeremy had come to Lexie's hometown of Boone Creek to investigate some mysterious lights that appear from time to time in certain conditions in an old graveyard. Lexie's grandmother used to bring her to the cemetery when she was a little girl, and Lexie took comfort in the thought that the lights were her parents, who had died in a car accident, telling her that they were all right, and they were looking after her. As an adult, Lexie doesn't really believe that anymore, but she still treasures those memories; and thinks of her parents whenever the lights appear.
After Lexie's untimely death, Jeremy decides to stay in Boone Creek to raise his daughter. When Claire is about five years old, she begins to have nightmares. One night Jeremy decides to bring Claire to the cemetery after a particularly disturbing dream, and the two of them watch the lights together and think of Lexie. What does all this have to do with cooking, you ask? The night Jeremy first brings Claire to see the lights, they eat their favorite meal together--turkey and macaroni and cheese.
Okay. So if you're just joining us, we're making macaroni and cheese with turkey.
I thought about maybe making this a Thanksgiving post last fall, because in my family, macaroni and cheese is a staple dish to serve with the traditional turkey. I knew this would be difficult, though, because we're often traveling on Thanksgiving Day, and someone else has already cooked (or has started cooking) the turkey by the time we arrive. Such was the case this past Thanksgiving. Then I thought maybe I'd have turkey for Christmas instead of our traditional ham, and cook mac & cheese that day too; but I decided to go with beef tenderloin roast. That left me with figuring out a good way to combine the two without having to cook an entire turkey. I could roast a turkey breast, and share my own mac & cheese recipe--which isn't really a recipe at all; just my way of throwing stuff together. I was chewing on that thought when the latest issue of Fine Cooking arrived in the mail--and I had my answer.
In the February/March issue, there's an article about the gazillion different ways you can make macaroni and cheese. You can use just about whatever kind of pasta you want, whatever kinds of cheese you want, and throw in just about any ingredients, or "add-ins," that you want. Normally when I make mac & cheese, I use several different kinds of cheese. Fine Cooking recommends three; to choose one or two as a "base cheese," (which I normally do anyway--I use about half cheddar and a combination of cheeses for the other half), and one "accent" cheese to supplement. (You can go online and make your own mac & cheese recipe with ingredients that they suggest--check it out!)
I grated up some cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Swiss.Then I made some bread crumbs from gluten-free bread. (I save the heels and store them in the freezer for times such as these. No one can tell the crumbs are gluten free.)
I used them to prepare the topping:
1 small clove garlic, mashed into a paste or pressed (optional)
1 1/2 oz (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter, melted (Unsalted butter? What's that? I ALWAYS use the salted kind.)
2 cups coarse, fresh breadcrumbs, lightly toasted (I didn't toast mine.)
2 Tbs. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or percornino (optional)
If using the garlic, stir it into the butter. Put the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl and drizzle the butter over the crumbs. Add a pinch of salt and the Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino (if using). With your hands, toss to combine. Set aside.
I always look for excuses to cook with bacon, so I diced up some and browned it,
and I diced up some nice turkey tenderloin cutlets I had found and cooked the pieces in the bacon grease. (This was where I deviated from the recipe--turkey is not one of the ingredients that Fine Cooking suggests. I also used more add-ins than I was supposed to. What I love about cooking is that I can do it my own way if I want; I often see recipes as guidelines and sources for ideas. There are no boundaries.)
After I started the pasta (just regular elbow macaroni, and gluten free rice ziti for myself) I made the sauce:
2 oz (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter (Like I said--don't know what that is.)
1 1/2 oz (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour (Instead of flour I used about 2 Tbs. cornstarch)
3 1/2 cups whole milk (I used reduced-fat milk since it's what I had on hand)
Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk over low heat for 3 minutes--the butter and flour should gently bubble and froth without coloring.Slowly add the milk, while whisking constantly. Be sure to whisk around the edges of the pan to get all the lumps. Whisk until the sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream, about 6 minutes. Taise the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and gently whisk in your choices of base cheese(s), accent cheese (if using), and herbs and spices, if using. (I threw in some pepper, and a little bit of Cayenne.)
I mixed up the pasta with my bacon, turkey, some chopped fresh parsley and thyme (which technically I was supposed to add to the sauce, but whatever), put some aside for Moe, who is allergic to milk, and mixed in the sauce. (I did the same with my gluten free pasta. Next time I think I'll just make gluten free mac & cheese for everyone; it will be much easier and they won't know the difference.)