Most cookbooks are divided into categories. Some go with the "meat, vegetables, seafood" format where recipes are slotted by main ingredient. Others divvy them up by course: appetizers, entrées, desserts, etc. I even have one that has separated the recipes into occasions, like picnics, parties, casual dinners and, of course, formal dinners. The pages of that last section, by the way, are as pristine as the day it was bought at a garage sale, giving you an idea of how useful its various owners have found it.
But I propose a different way to categorize a cookbook, and that's by how you feel. Happy? Make some small plates of your favorite foods, including simple salads and desserts. Depressed? You could indulge in a big ol' chocolate cake by yourself, or treat your mood with lots of fish and kale for their Omega 3s and anti-oxidants.
Then there's sinful, which I'm sure someone has done already and titled "Food for Lovers" or some such, full of unctuous (good word for that category, right?), creamy, rich or sweet flavors that beg to be licked off the plate or some other surface—but we'll stop there.
A perfect food for that category, though one I doubt would normally be thought of, is crab. It's certainly rich and has a delicate sweetness on its own…think whole pieces of leg or joint eaten right out of the shell. But it takes on a whole different personality when folded into a creamy sauce or warmed in a bisque, its sweet character enhancing the lushness of the dish and the warm meat melting when it hits your tongue.
Which is why, when I saw that cooked whole crabs had hit a ridiculously low price per pound, and knowing that early season crab is the sweetest, I bought two and fantasized about using it in macaroni and cheese. While I was only planning on using the meat from one of them for the casserole, the price and my lack of inhibitions made me throw the meat from both into the noodles and sauce just before I slid it into the oven, and it was so worth it.
This recipe would be terrific for a special dinner, served in individual ramekins which, depending on your mood and the setting—say, in front of the fire on a lambskin rug?—could make for a memorable evening. Champagne, anyone?
Dungeness Crab Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb. dried pasta (penne or cavatappi are my faves)
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2 c. whole milk (or 1 c. cream or half-and-half plus 1 c. milk)
1/2 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. cream cheese or sour cream
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce (I use my homemade chile sauce)
Salt and pepper to taste
Meat from 1-2 crabs
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. While water is heating, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Remove from burner and add flour, stirring to combine until there are no lumps remaining. Return to burner and cook on low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Increase heat to medium and add milk (or milk and cream) and stir until it thickened. Then add cheese in handfuls, stirring each in until they're melted. Add cream cheese and stir until sauce is thick and creamy, then add hot sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to keep sauce warm until pasta is done, stirring occasionally.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook till al dente or a little less. Drain and put back in pasta pot, pour cheese sauce and crab meat over tthe top and fold in briefly to combine, keeping crab from breaking up too much. Pour into baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes.