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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mac and Cheese Cook-Off

In the last year a couple cookbooks have come into my collection, these include one by Pioneer Woman The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl and one by Jessica Seinfeld Double Delicious!: Good, Simple Food for Busy, Complicated Lives.

These two ladies share some things in common: successful cooks and cookbook authors, mothers, and married to men who seem easy to love (Marlboro Man and Jerry Seinfeld). But their cookbook styles are worlds apart: Pioneer Woman says yes please to cream and butter. Jessica says no way to cream and butter, and replaces fatty ingredients with vegetable purees and whole grains.

Both ladies have mac ‘n cheese recipes in their books that look fantastic. I love mac and cheese, but had never made it at home before. So, I decided to invite two of our friends over for a dinner party – on the condition that they realized I would be serving two different mac n’ cheese dishes. They agreed, and so the mac and cheese cook-off began.

Since both dishes make 8 servings, it is pretty easy to do a comparison of the ingredients and see their differences.

PW 1 egg, Jessica no eggs
PW ¼ cup butter, Jessica 2 tablespoons margarine
PW whole milk, Jessica skim milk
PW 1 lb cheddar, Jessica 1 cup cheddar and 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Jessica whole wheat pasta, PW regular macaroni
Jessica ½ cup pureed carrot, PW no veggies in here!

Would Jessica’s mac be lacking in flavor, or even resemble mac and cheese? Would PW’s mac cause me to die of a heart attack right there? Would the congealed leftovers make me nauseous to look at them?

I made both recipes, in their entirety, exactly as directed in the cookbooks. I prepared the dishes simultaneously, so that they’d be ready at the same time. I didn’t want a cold mac and cheese to disadvantage one of the dishes.

They both started out with a process I hated of whisking flour and butter/margarine together. I was so worried I was going to burn it, or it was too dry.

My favorite part of both dishes was after the cheese sauce had been made, when I dumped the sauce in with the noodles. I couldn’t help but do an early taste test of both. They were so good! Though at this point I was leaning towards Jessica’s. It was just so smooth! With the carrot and so little cheese, it wasn’t clumping, or starting to dry out too quickly.

Jessica's before the breadcrumbs

Both recipes called for being put into baking dishes and baked. Jessica’s was topped with a breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture before baking. PW’s was topped with some of the cheddar.

I pulled the bubbling dishes out of the oven a little before my guests arrived. When we dug in, they were at a perfect temperature.

PW's is on the left, Jessica's on the right

My tasters:
2 males, 2 females. Everyone in their late 20’s.

After a few minutes of munching I started asking for verdicts.

PW was preferred by 3 out of 4. The two guys, and me. While I had loved Jessica’s in my early taste test, I felt the breadcrumbs dried it out, and I wouldn’t plan on using them again. PW’s’ maintained a creaminess I preferred. But if I was to compare it to the pre-breadcrumb Jessica version, I would’ve preferred Jessica’s. One of the other guys, Erik, agreed about the strong dislike of the breadcrumbs, but since I was the only one who had tasted it pre-breadcrumb, he couldn’t compare. My husband preferred PW’s, but only slightly.

The other female, Olivia, liked Jessica’s the best. When I revealed that it was carrot puree in there, she was very relieved. She said she was nervous to say she’d liked it best; because she thought I’d put ground up cheetos in there. When I took a second look, I had to agree. Baking the pasta had caused the carrots to become more noticeable.

The leftovers test:

How did they taste reheated, after having been in my fridge for a day? I preferred Jessica’s again. It reheated pretty well, and the breadcrumbs weren’t as noticeable since the fridge made them soggy. I didn’t feel PW’s reheated well, it seemed to separate. If I’d reheated it in the oven, it might have done better. When I asked my husband which leftover he preferred, he couldn’t tell me, “I’ve just been eating out of whichever one is on top” was his response. I think he liked them both!


I’m going to make Jessica’s in the future, but not bake it! It is just my type of mac and cheese when the sauce is first combined.

You can find PW's recipe on her blog and Jessica's mac and cheese from Double Delicious here. When looking for Jessica's recipe already on the internet, I found out that her first book, deceptively delicious, had a mac and cheese recipe that she shared on Oprah. The Oprah recipe is different than the one I tested from the cookbook.

Overall, I would reccomend both cookbooks. They each have their own take on recipes, and I've enjoyed what I've made out of both cookbooks. And if you want me to do another Jessica vs. PW, just let me know!

1 comment:

  1. I love PW's book and have cooked many things in it. Great idea to have a cook off with Jessica and PW, glad your friends were game for it!!