River Recipes: Gourmet Mac and Cheese

Imagine sipping red wine while watching the Northern sun settle closer to the horizon. The beautiful canyon walls of First Canyon on the Nahanni are glowing pink and yellow with the early evening light. Someone is reading a section from Patterson’s The Dangerous River. The smell of melting cheese wafts in front of your nose, as your guides crack the lid on the Dutch oven to check on this evenings entrée. Golden brown au gratin with creamy macaroni and cheese bubbling underneath is always devoured appreciatively after a day spent paddling in the outdoors. The aroma of star anise and whole allspice also piques your interest. As you saunter by the kitchen you view the freshly pickled red onions. Could it get any better? Another delicious, hearty dinner will be served up, yet again from the river galley.

Tummies nicely filled; a warm drink is all you need to end this perfect day. You’re ready to crawl into your tent and dream the night away.

Guests always ask for our Nahanni Wild cookbooks, which we proudly share. Here is the recipe for the hungry crowd-pleaser described above:

Gourmet Mac and Cheese with Pickled Onions
Pickled Red Onions

(1/2) Red onion (thinly sliced)
(300ml) White wine vinegar

Pre-mix: (in cheesecloth)

(15 ml) Black peppercorns
(3) Star anise
(15 ml) Whole allspice
(8 ml) Cloves
(30 ml) White sugar
(5 ml) Salt
(half) One fresh garlic clove

Instructions: Bring white wine vinegar to a light boil. Add all spices and sugar. Simmer for five minutes. Add onion and simmer for another 10 minutes. Pour all into a sealable glass jar, let it cool, seal. Make sure the onions are submerged in the liquid. The longer you let it sit, the better.

Baked Mac and Cheese

(600 g) Rotini pasta


(75 g [80 ml]) Butter
(75 g) Flour
(60 ml) Onion (finely diced)
(2) Garlic cloves


(8 ml) Onion powder
(8 ml) Garlic powder
(1 or 2) Thai red chile peppers (finely chopped)

Evaporated milk (354 ml can)
(1150 ml) Milk powder
(90 g) Gruyere cheese (coarsely chopped)
(90 g) Old cheddar (white) coarsely chopped

To finish:

(250 ml [80 g]) Panko
(90 g) Gruyere cheese (thinly sliced)

Instructions: Cook pasta in large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain, and set aside.

Roux: Melt butter. Whisk in flour; cook for about six minutes. Add onion and garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add milk slowly, whisking constantly over medium heat until thickened (about 10 min). Add onion, garlic powder and chiles. Add cheeses and stir until melted.

Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir. Turn into a parchment-lined Dutch oven. Toss thin strips of Gruyere with panko and cover the top. Bake at high heat with lid on for about 15 minutes until panko is golden brown. 
Serve with pickled onions on top for garnish. Enjoy!

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