The Mac & Cheese Cookbook: 50 Simple Recipes From Homeroom, America’s Favorite Mac And Cheese Restaurant, by Allison Arevalo & Erin Wade
A friend of mine has to cook mac & cheese for her father all the time, and so I have gotten in the habit of making jokes about all the ways that one can cook this familiar dish. As a result of that joke, I wanted to see if there were cookbooks devoted to this particular dish available in my local library system and lo and behold, there was one. As someone who is both generally fond of macaroni and cheese as well as well as reading cookbooks , I found this book to be highly enjoyable. My general rule of thumb for appreciating cookbooks is if there are even a few dishes that are shown here that I want to try and might even be willing to cook, the book is a success, and by those somewhat modest standards this book definitely excels. Can a restaurant make variations on one dish that are stellar and fill and entire book (albeit a short one) with different variations of mac & cheese and be successful and worthwhile? Absolutely.
The book is organized in a very effective way to show off the wide variety of dishes that one can make with or around a base of mac & cheese. The book starts with a discussion of the dream of the authors to start a restaurant based around mac & cheese that led them to leave lucrative careers as a marketer and a lawyer, respectively, in order to become restaurant entrepreneurs. Beginning with a recipe of the essential mac sauce (also known as bèchamel sauce), the authors discuss the wide variety of cheeses as well as toppings that can be used for the dish and the importance of choosing the right salt, and even discuss their wine & beer pairings, which are given for all of the main dish recipes included here. The first chapter of recipes includes American classics, which range from the classic mac to the spicy mac, an interesting variant featuring hot dogs and potato chips that is called trailer mac, a tuna mac, a chili mac, a breakfast mac with fried eggs and a few others, some including Vermont white cheddar and others featuring garlic. The next chapter includes international varieties including Shepherd’s mac, a Mexican mac, a Cacio e Pepe that looks fantastic, a mac featuring a mix of gouda cheeses, and a patatas bravas mac with paprika that I would like to try for myself, among other dishes. A chapter on experimenting with unusual ingredients includes a cold pesto mac, a classy truffle mac, a surprising vegan mac as well as some tasty looking dishes like four cheese mac, mac-cakes, and a mac & cheese dish with feta cheese called Mac the goat. After this comes a chapter on side dishes including some really good looking dishes like roasted carrots with citrus vinaigrette, crispy blanched string beans, a brussels sprouts dish that I would use with turkey bacon and apple cider vinaigrette, a winter citrus salad, and minty, buttery peas. The book closes with some desserts, some of which (like the dessert mac, seem rather striking continuations of the book’s theme) and others just sound delicious, like the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, the peanut butter pie, or the strawberry crisp dish. If you don’t find at least a dozen dishes here that sound absolutely amazing to try, you could probably stand to have a bit more adventuresome tastes and a bit more appreciation of the humble macaroni and cheese.
This book manages to combine two tendencies that are usually at odds with each other when it comes to contemporary cooking. One of those is an appreciation of dishes that are humble and modest. I grew up eating variations of these dishes largely because pasta is inexpensive and I grew up rather poor, and because these dishes are inexpensive to make and generally fairly quick to make, they are a familiar food for a great many people. What these authors do in their book, and likely in their restaurant as well, is to combine a humble but versatile food with a great deal of class and variety to turn it into something that can be appreciated by the hipster gourmands that this book is aimed at. The combination of humble and flexible foods that are not terribly expensive with classy presentation and inventive ingredients and combinations of dishes makes for a book that appeals both to modest and ordinary people as well as hipsters who are always looking for something different and odd. This book manages to appeal to both audiences while presenting some foods that look amazing to try. If their restaurant delivers even half of the promise that these dishes inspire through the excellent writing of its authors, it would be a must-try place in Oakland if I am ever in the area.
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