Gus Gauch’s Macaroni and Cheese

Gus Gauch was a farmer who lived down the road from us in the country. He was also one of the two best fly fishermen on the Namakagon River north of Hayward.

When I was eight years old, Gus talked my mother into letting him teach me how to fly fish for trout.  She was afraid that her firstborn might not make it home from the river, and if she had seen me starting to float away in my brand new plastic waders that first day, my trout fishing career would have ended pretty quickly.  However, Gus was there to catch me as I was about to tip over, and we never told her about it.

I learned a lot of things from Gus, one of which was not to tell your mother everything.  Another was his recipe for macaroni and cheese.  The first time I had it was in late winter when Gus asked me to come over after supper so we could tie some flies.  When I got there he was still eating.  He asked me if I wanted some macaroni and cheese, and since I hadn’t had anything to eat for fifteen minutes I said yes.

It wasn’t like my mother’s macaroni and cheese but I loved it.  Unlike most macaroni and cheese recipes, this one does not use a white sauce into which you melt the cheese.  Instead, you layer the cooked macaroni, shredded cheese and buttered bread crumbs in a casserole and heat it briefly in the oven.  It is extremely simple and easy to make, has no trans fats, is lower in calories than ordinary mac and cheese and is just plain delicious.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups uncooked macaroni
4 – 5 T butter
8 oz. medium cheddar cheese
3 or 4 slices dry bread or buns to make 1 cup of bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Bring two quarts of water to boiling.  Preheat the oven to 300º.

While the water is heating, shred the cheese and set it aside.  When the water reaches a full boil, stir in the macaroni and cook nine or ten minutes; I always add salt to the boiling water, but suit yourself. Drain but do not rinse so the pasta will be hot when you assemble the dish.

While the macaroni is cooking, crush three or four slices of dry bread (hot dog or hamburger buns you have dried in the oven work very well also) to make about one cup of bread crumbs.  Do not try to turn the crumbs into a powder.  Leave some quarter inch pieces to provide a little variety in appearance. 

Melt four tablespoons of butter in a small frying pan on low heat.  When the butter is melted, add the bread crumbs and toast them slightly stirring with a fork until the crumbs are mixed with the butter.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. I use about a quarter teaspoon each of salt and pepper. If the crumbs seem too dry, add a little more butter.

Butter an ovenproof glass baking dish.  Put a thin layer (about a half inch) of macaroni in the dish, sprinkle about one-third of the cheese evenly over the macaroni.  Repeat with two more layers.  Spread bread crumbs over the top and put the uncovered dish in the hot oven.  Heat about fifteen minutes until the cheese is melted.

And that’s it!

NOTES:  You can use mild or sharp cheddar cheese for a different flavor.  And if you want to be fancy, grate an extra tablespoon of cheese on top of the crumbs.  If you don’t have any dry bread, toast 4 slices and cut them into small cubes.

Pork Pot Roast

Snow banks were a lot higher when I walked to kindergarten in Hayward than they are today in New Richmond. I remember that they were taller than I was. Of course, I was only about four feet tall, which might help explain my vivid memories of walking down canyons on the way to school.

Winters were colder too, which is probably why I froze my ears on the way to school one morning when I was in first grade. My mother had knitted me a red wool stocking cap that she pulled down carefully over my ears before sending me out the door on that first really cold day, but they still froze. The fact that I didn’t want to look like a sissy on the way to school might have contributed to the ear problem. The note that the teacher sent home contributed to a different problem, but it ensured that I kept the cap pulled down on really cold days.

The cold winters meant that we had a freezer that needed no electricity. Like many of our neighbors we stored meat outside from December through March. If it got too warm, one could always rent space in the locker plant.

The year after we moved to the country my father bought a solid wooden storage building with red siding. Naturally we called it the red shed. He built a tight wooden chest about two by three by six feet that we used in the winter to store frozen meat. Every fall Mom and Dad would buy half a hog and get it cut, wrapped, labeled and frozen. At least once a week before the school bus came I would be sent out with a flashlight to get a pork roast from the red shed. Even on really cold mornings I didn’t mind that chore because I knew we were going to have pot roast for supper.

Mom’s pot roasts always included carrots, onions and potatoes, but I’m not sure that she used beer in cooking. She browned the meat in bacon grease and used homemade chicken broth if there was some in the refrigerator. Then she added salt and spices until it tasted right to her. It may not taste exactly like Mom’s but this simple recipe makes a great dinner.

INGREDIENTS:

2 or 3 lb. pork roast
1 medium onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 or 3 medium potatoes
4 or 5 carrots
1 T olive oil
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1 T cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Brown the roast on all sides over high heat. When brown, drain off the oil and fat. Turn down the heat. Salt the meat lightly. Slice the onion into quarter-inch slices and mince the garlic. Put the onion and garlic on top of and around the roast. Grind some fresh black pepper over the roast. Add the water, beer and a bouillon cube. Cover and let simmer for about an hour (longer if the roast is larger). Check occasionally and add a little more liquid if necessary.

Peel and quarter the potatoes, clean the carrots and cut in half lengthwise if they are large. Add the vegetables to the pan, sprinkle with dried basil and salt lightly. Cook until vegetables are done, about forty-five to fifty minutes. Remove the vegetables and meat from the pan, add equal quantities of beer and water so you have one to one and one-half cups of stock in the pan. Skim off any excess fat. Dissolve a tablespoon of cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water. Stir this into the juices, bring to a boil and cook until the gravy has thickened and turned clear. If you want a darker gravy, you can color it with a small amount of brown gravy sauce. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

NOTES:

Pork roasts should always be served with a tart fruit dish. Cranberry relish is good when you can get fresh cranberries. Otherwise, try cranberry sauce or a spiced applesauce. If you prefer wine to beer for cooking and serving with the meal, try a dry white wine such as a chardonnay instead.