Thursday, October 6, 2011

Best Mac and Cheese ever!

So let's just clarify here, I am NOT a mac and cheese connoisseur.  I could almost call my husband that really.  He had a grown-up truffle oil mac and cheese at this fancy restaurant when we celebrated our anniversary (I had a taste and it WAS good!).  Me...meh!  I've always felt like I could take it or leave Mac and Cheese.  I didn't grow up with amazing mac and cheese (sorry mom!, but it's true) and have never really loved it.  The blue box with the powdered cheese - just the smell makes me gag and yes I'm nice enough to indulge my children in the boxed variety.

My daughter (2) will eat ANY mac and cheese and my son (5) who is a little more picky doesn't like Trader Joe's and recently declared the blue box kind gross when we ran out of the Costco brand I usually make and had made some of the blue box kind.

I've been watching The Chew a new talk show on ABC that is all about food.  Clinton Kelly is on it from What Not to Wear, and Carla Hall from Top Chef (love her!), Michael Symon who is now an Iron Chef, Mario Batali (one of the great Italian chefs) and Daphne Oz (yes, the daughter of Dr. Oz).  Anyways, a great line-up of co-hosts and they all bring something different to the table - literally.  Carla is from the South and made a Mac and Cheese the other day that looked divine.  I decided to indulge my children and make some from scratch, which gasp I've never done.  I know seriously...I've been depriving them of homemade and now feel so guilty because it was SO easy and tasted REALLY good!

I'm sure I'll still make the boxed kind sometimes because it's fast, but I've found a great recipe that even Matthew will eat so I'm sure I'll be making it more often now.  The key ingredient is BACON!  We love bacon at our house.  If you don't like bacon just leave it out and use a bit more butter to compensate.  The bacon just brings the whole thing to a new level.   My husband was off to a concert tonight (he just texted me that he's so close, he can read the set list) so I'm sure he's way excited to try tomorrow for his lunch.  I can't wait to hear his review.

There are some additional steps to the mac and cheese that I didn't include in my steps, but are listed in the recipe.  I left out the breadcrumb topping and caramelized onions as both of my kids would NOT have liked either of those in or on their dinner.  In particular they've had bread crumb toppings before on their Mac and Cheese at restaurants and didn't really care for it.

AND one more isn't low-fat, but it is delicious.  You CAN indulge in comfort food just make yourself a smaller portion and eat with some salad.

Here are a few LITTLE ways to lighten it up and make it a wee bit healthier, and some additional tips for a good macaroni and cheese.

1-Use whole wheat macaroni.  I did and my kids didn't even notice.
2-Use whole wheat flour in the rue.  Once again, couldn't tell.
3-You can use skim milk for the milk part.
4-I would NOT suggest using lower fat cheeses, will affect the taste.  Use a little less cheese if you want to save some calories.
5-Use light cream cheese, we couldn't tell.  I wouldn't use fat free here.  I think it would affect the creaminess of the dish and really fat free cream cheese kinda gives me the heebie jeebies.  It's very weird.
6-DO NOT USE pre-shredded cheese.  It has a little bit of wax in it to prevent it from sticking together.  Use the block cheese that you need to shred.  It will make your dish creamier AND do you really want wax in your meal?
7-I do love that my kids aren't eating all sorts of preservatives.

Ok, on to the recipe....

Carla Hall's Mac and Cheese:
1 lb Elbow Macaroni
6 strips Bacon (cooked and crumbled) - reserve the drippings
2 tbsp Butter
3 tbsp Flour
1 1/2 cups Milk (can be skim)
1 cup Caramelized Onions (optional)
1 cup Pepper Jack Cheese grated (or regular cheddar)
1 cup White Cheddar grated
4 oz Cream Cheese (can be light)

Optional Toppings
2 cups Breadcrumbs
2 cloves Garlic minced
1 tbsp Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
-In a skillet over medium heat, combine all ingredients for breadcrumbs. Allow to toast. 

1/2 cup Chopped Parsley to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes.  Drain.

In a saucepan cook bacon until crispy. Remove bacon.  Chop and crumble.

Reserve drippings in saucepan. Add and melt 2 tablespoons butter in same saucepan over medium heat.

Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon (or a whisk if you have a metal pan) until smooth.

Whisk in the milk, and stir until thick, about 2 minutes.  This is called a rue - just a fancy term for fats, flour, and milk whisked together.  See Mac and Cheese IS fancy!

Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses (or both cheddars). 
My kids can't handle spice yet, so I opted for 2 different cheddars.  Did you know they don't sell orange cheddar in England?  I remember trying to find some orange cheddar my first time in the grocery store when we lived there and was SHOCKED there was no orange.  I got used to it though and find it is superior in flavor than regular orange cheddar.  I wonder why we started coloring it orange in the U.S. in the first place?  Hmm.....anyhoo...

Whisk in the cream cheese until smooth. The cream cheese keeps the pasta moist.

Stir in caramelized onions (optional), 3/4 of the bacon and pasta.   When serving, top with the remaining bacon, breadcrumb mixture and parsley.

So like I said I am not a Mac and Cheese lover per se, but do LOVE me some bacon.  I loved, loved, loved this Mac and Cheese and I think the addition of the bacon added a whole new flavor.  It was so deslish! (I just had a small bowl full).  My son (also a bacon lover) had two bowl fulls and I'm sure he'll be asking for some more tomorrow for lunch.  I would worry about my kids getting chunky if I fed this to them every day, but my son eats like a bird mostly and my daughter would only eat fruit if I let her (I always say between them they eat a full meal).  Indulging once in awhile is good for the soul!
Carla Hall's Mac and Cheese Printable Link - You can officially find it here, but I think their recipes are kind of a mess and hard to print/use.  My version is cleaned up AND on one page.

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