June 2010 Archives

When it comes to macaroni and cheese, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who reach for the blue box, and those who reach for the orange box.  I've always been an orange boxer.  I can't recall ever seeing the blue Kraft Mac & Cheese box in our house when I was growing up, but there were always two Stouffer's products in our freezer: french bread pizza and mac & cheese.  Kraft's version seems like a product that tends to grab people in their childhood.  The shockingly bright powder that becomes a gooey cheese sauce on the stovetop feels too artificial to my adult taste.  But the contents of that orange Stouffer's box-- fluffy, creamy, with a fabulously browned cheesy crust-- is my Platonic ideal for this dish.

I've tried making baked mac and cheese from scratch a couple of times, but the recipes-- from Alton Brown and Cook's Illustrated, each of whom has produced big winners for me in the past-- left me flat.  The results lacked flavor and the unctuous body I was looking for.  I always thought that the big choice with mac and cheese is stovetop vs. oven.  But yesterday I discovered one even more important: bechamel vs. custard.

Bechamel, made by whisking scalded milk into a flour-butter roux, is one of the five French mother sauces and a basic component of dishes like lasagna, moussaka, and many casseroles.  Custard is a cooked mixture of milk/cream and egg, and can become the foundation of anything from pastry cream to quiche.  The recipes I hadn't liked started with a bechamel.  But now that I thought about it... the Stouffer's mac certainly had the qualities of a custard.  Could this be the answer I've been looking for?

Why, yes.  Yes it could.

Yesterday I put together this recipe from Saveur Magazine (just look at that photo!), whose story on macaroni and cheese educated me about the bechamel-versus-custard debate in the first place.  And aside from an absurdly low quantity of pasta in the recipe-- next time, I'll increase the pasta by at least fifty percent, because there's ample sauce to handle it-- it turned out splendidly.  The custard gave the dish exactly the kind of body I'd been looking for, and the hint of onion elevated it even further.  I intend to try the Artisanal recipe soon (since the Bellevue outpost of that restaurant just closed yesterday, I lost my chance to just walk in and order it), but for now this custard-based mac and cheese is my new comfort food favorite.

Comments (11) | last by Paige, Sep 26, 5:44 PM

Today Microsoft officially announced the game I've been working on for the past 18 months or so, Kinect Adventures, for the hands-free Kinect controller (formerly known as Project Natal).

The gaming community's response to today's announcements has been a lot of hate.  Hate that all the announced titles are aimed at the casual market rather than the hardcore gamer.  Hate that these games are "rip-offs" of titles already available on the Wii.  Hate that Microsoft is offering something to a different demographic than its traditional male, shooter-loving adolescent.

Completely predictable.

Nintendo experienced the same thing when they launched the Wii, and took that hate all the way to the bank.  As demographics go, gamers are moderate fish in a fairly small pond.  With Kinect, Microsoft is digging a channel out to sea to go after bigger fish.  And smaller fish.  And fish of different colors, shapes, and sizes.  Gamers don't like that.  They want the pond all to themselves.

The magic of Kinect is hinted at by the videos, but doesn't fully manifest until you step in front of it yourself.  Until you do, your mind grasps the idea of the technology.  It understands on an abstract level that the thing works.  You think you know what it would be like to play a Kinect-enabled game.  But like the Matrix, nobody can tell you what it is-- you have to experience it for yourself.  And when you do, the walls of indifference, intellectual detachment, and self-assured rationalization crumble beneath the force of sheer childlike delight.  Kinect reaches behind your back and flips a hidden switch you didn't even know you had.  It's simple.  It's intuitive.  It's marvelous.

And it's nothing to be afraid of.  If a traditional controller is an oven, Kinect is a stove.  They're two different ways of doing similar things, each better at some things and worse at others.  There's room in the kitchen for both.

Kinect Adventures is a great launch title.  It's great for the entire family, supports players joining at any time (what we call easy-in, easy-out gameplay), can be played in short or long bursts, is incredibly easy to play, and lends itself very well to party situations.  The photos it takes of you as you play are always crowd-pleasers, and the ability to show off and share creative rewards with friends will appeal to social players.

Once people get a chance to get in front of Adventures and try Kinect, I think these things are going to sell themselves.

Comments (4) | last by Larry Hosken, Jun 15, 5:43 PM

Points for Cheap

To all my XBox 360 peeps in Zombieland, allow me to direct your attention to this deal for 4000 Microsoft Points for $37 (that's 25% off!) courtesy of Dell.  Normally, those points would set you back half a Benjamin (a Benj?).

Comment (1) | last by Brian, Jun 12, 5:40 AM