Easter – Mac and Cheese

Well, our first major holiday during the pandemic is nearly over and I hope everyone is safe and well.  I thought that maybe this was our second holiday, considering the pandemic was on the rise during Valentine’s Day but, I believe we were still in “discovery mode” during that time.  The virus was mostly abroad and we only had a few cases reported in the United States.  It’s amazing how quickly our perception changed.

Churches are not having services, which is very odd, especially during a religious holiday.  Many families are separated from each other and there are unfilled seats at our dinner tables.  I’m thankful for our phones and the internet because we still have the ability to reach out to those we love.

But, enough of all that.  This is a food blog.  Let’s dig in.

I am fortunate that my daughter was available to help make this dish.  She’s a mac and cheese aficionado and I was thrilled to have her on my team!

This is a variation of the recipe I posted several months ago.  If you want to see the original post, click here.  The original recipe calls for 2 cups of dry macaroni noodles and I only had 1 ¾ cups this time, so I scaled some of the other ingredients down accordingly and made a few substations.

Easter Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

3 strips thinly sliced bacon

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 ¾ cups elbow macaroni

¼ cup butter

2 tsp bacon fat

¼ cup flour

3 ½ cups whole milk

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

8 oz queso Chihuahua (white Mexican cheese), grated

Directions:

Cut the 3 slices of raw bacon into 2” pieces with a sharp knife.  Add the bacon pieces to a small frying pan.  Crowding the pan is recommended because the bacon needs to be cooked at the lowest heat setting and the resulting bacon fat will help regulate the temperature.  Frying the bacon at low heat will  help ensure that the bacon and the bacon fat does not burn.

Add freshly ground black pepper to the bacon.  I probably used between ¼ and ½ teaspoons.  The pepper will flavor the bacon and the fat that it produces.

Remove the bacon once it has become firm.  Set aside.  Reserve the fat for later.

Reserve the bacon fat.

Boil the elbow macaroni in a large pot of water. 

While the macaroni boils, heat the milk in a microwave oven for about a minute or two.  The goal is to warm the milk to about 120°, or just a little hotter than bath water.  Set the milk aside.

Strain the macaroni after it has become soft.  Leave the macaroni in a colander and reserve at least 1/3 cup of the starchy water.

In the same large pot, now empty, add the butter and bacon fat.  Set the heat to low and simmer for a minute. 

Add the flour and whisk, to form a roux. 

Slowly add warm milk, while whisking.  Turn the heat to medium high and keep whisking for a few minutes while the sauce thickens.

Add the Tabasco sauce and mustard.  Whisk to incorporate.  Once the sauce has thickened, turn the heat to low.

Slowly add the grated cheese.  Stir slowly, with a spatula, as the cheese is added. 

When the cheese has melted, add the macaroni and fold, to coat the macaroni.

Pour the mac and cheese in an oven-proof backing dish and bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.

Remove from the oven and top with crumbled bacon.

Serve with love!

Happy Easter.

Macaroni and Cheese with Crumbled Bacon

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I see mac and cheese like a good pair of blue jeans.  It goes with everything and any occasion.  Just as you can wear blue jeans with a worn out t-shirt, or a sweatshirt, or a pull-over sweater, or a crisply ironed shirt and tie, so goes mac and cheese. 

Mac and cheese rarely takes top billing, when it comes to planning a dinner but I guarantee that if it’s really good mac and cheese, you won’t have any leftovers.

True to my style, I prepare mac and cheese differently almost every time I make it.  I can’t tell you how many bad versions I’ve made but I can say I have made some good ones.  I have a tendency to let my free spirit roam and I start improvising, even when I have a perfectly good recipe in front of me.  I guess that’s what makes me, me.  If you want to make really good mac and cheese, follow the recipe by Kelsey Nixon, from the Food Network.  https://www.kelseynixon.com/mac-cheese/

Kelsey’s recipe is easy to follow and, as far as I’m concerned, flawless.  The secret is Muenster cheese.  Muenster cheese is perhaps the best melting cheese ever.  And, if you learn nothing else from that recipe, know that homemade mac and cheese starts with a béchamel (white sauce).  A béchamel is simply a roux with warm milk added to it.

I didn’t have Muenster on hand this time so I opted for Colby-Jack.  Both Colby-Jack and cheddar cheese melt well but if over-heated they can break down, and there goes the lovely cheese sauce. 

I should also note that I did not take photos throughout the cooking process.  I was hungry and I was in a hurry.  Such is the life of a working man.

1 Tbs kosher salt

2 cups elbow macaroni

3 strips cooked bacon

¼ cup butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups milk

1 tsp dry mustard (essential!)

1 Tbs hot sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces Colby-Jack cheese

In a 4 quart pot, boil water and add kosher salt.  Add pasta and cook until soft…just a bit beyond al dente.  Reserve 1/3 cup water from cooked pasta and set aside.  Strain the pasta and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, over medium/low heat add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the flour to make a roux.  Heat for just a minute or two. 

Heat the milk in the microwave, or stove top, to near boiling.  Slowly introduce 3 cups of the milk to the roux.  Turn the heat down (or off) while adding and mixing the milk.  Add the pasta water and dry mustard (and a little black pepper if you like).  Add the hot sauce and stir to combine.  Turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a boil.  Once the sauce begins to boil, turn the heat down.

Set the heat to low and slowly add the Colby-Jack and sharp cheddar cheese.  Gently stir with a spatula but do not over stir.  Low heat and minimal stirring helps reduce the possibility of the sauce breaking.  Add the other cup of warm milk and gently stir.  Add the pasta and stir to coat the pasta. 

Turn out to an oven proof serving bowl and place in a 350° oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with crumbled bacon

I served this with steamed broccoli, bite-sized fried chicken and crunchy, fried shrimp.