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.

Sheet Pan Roast

This is a great time-saving meal for a weeknight dinner…very convenient for working parents who want to make something nutritious, tasty and quickly.  The whole process takes about an hour, from start to finish.  Clean up is easy, especially if you line the sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.  I used frozen Italian sausage for this and it cooked completely and browned nicely.  The ham was cured and ready to eat, so I added it near the end of the cooking process, just to make it warm.

Ingredients:

3 large russet potatoes

2 very large carrots

8 to 10 oz broccoli

½ large onion

8 oz mushrooms

2 tsp salt

2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

3 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 Tbs Italian seasoning

2 mild Italian sausage links (about ½ lb)

½ lb cured ham, sliced ¼” thick.

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Set oven to 350°.

Peel and rough chop vegetables.  Cut vegetables into 1” to 1 ½” pieces.

Add oil, garlic, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to a large mixing bowl.

Toss vegetables in the oil mixture and turn everything out to a lined sheet pan.

Add the sausage on top of the vegetables.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.  Stir vegetables and turn the sausage over to brown evenly.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Add the ham and stir.  Top with Parmesan cheese Bake for another 5 minutes.  Serve from the baking sheet, or a serving platter.