Make Your Own Mac ‘N Cheese Bar

macaron and cheese toppings
In my family, Chuck’s macaroni and cheese is iconic. Does your family have dishes like this? Dishes that are requested by the guest of honor at birthdays and dreamed about by family members away from home for too long.

Over the years we have bullied Chuck into making his mac and cheese so often that, out of boredom, his recipe has morphed. Chuck cooks kind of like I do – which is to say that he chafes at strict recipes, loves to improvise, and can rarely manage to reproduce an exact replica of any dish. So now, when Chuck makes his mac and cheese, there is always a twist. Sometimes there’s bacon, sometimes chunks of pickled garlic. Whatever inspires Chuck ends up in the mac and cheese.

When we had friends over for dinner last weekend, it occurred to me that it would be awfully fun to let each one of us tinker with our own, individual bowl of Chuck’s mac and cheese. I made up a big pot of cheese sauce, and we each tossed the bubbling cheese with pasta and any other mix-ins we desired before throwing it in the oven to bake and crisp. Jeff, of course, dove right into the crumbled bacon and diced Italian sausage. I was a big fan of the steamed cauliflower and fresh herbs. Basically, anything goes here, so the toppings below are just suggestions. And as for the cheese sauce, feel free to adjust that to your tastes as well. Chuck sometimes mixes up the cheeses he includes, or throws a can of diced tomatoes directly into the cheese itself. But don’t skimp on the mustard powder – it’s Chuck’s (not so) secret ingredient.

macaroni and cheese homemade baked

Mac and Cheese Bar
serves 8

For the pasta:
1 pound dry pasta (I like penne or rotini for this)

For the cheese sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 cups milk
3 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

For the toppings:
1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon
1/2 cup diced cooked Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced tomato
1 cup steamed cauliflower
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, dill, parsley and cilantro are all good options)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until just al dente. Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the butter. Sauté the onion and garlic in butter over medium heat until soft. Add in the flour and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the salt, pepper, and mustard powder, and cook the flour mixture 5 minutes. Slowly add just a splash of milk, and wisk until a smooth paste forms. Add half of the remaining milk in a slow stream, wisking constantly. Wisk in the remaining milk and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes more. Add in the cheeses and stir continually until the cheese is fully melted. Add additional salt and/or pepper to taste. Keep the cheese sauce warm over low heat while you assemble the mac and cheese.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8 oven proof bowls or ramekins. Give each guest his or her bowl to fill with pasta, cheese sauce, and any variety of mix-ins. I suggest topping with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Arrange the bowls on two jelly roll pans and bake until the tops start to brown and the cheese sauce is bubbling.

Published in: on May 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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For The Packers: Mac-‘N-Beer-Cheese Soup

beer cheese soup with macaroniI’m not actually much of a sports fan.  Oh sure, I watch football every Sunday, but only because Jeff does.  And I have a Patriots sweatshirt, but Jeff bought it for me and I wear it because it’s warm.  Even so, I love football.  Not for the game itself, but for the food. I’m realizing just now that I’m devoting more energy to this year’s Super Bowl menu that I did to Thanksgiving and Christmas combined.  That should probably tell you something about my palate. 

I’d been thinking for months about what I’d cook if the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl.  White clam pizza, baked beans, Parker House rolls, Boston Cream Pie…  but now none of those dishes seem quite right.  However, beer cheese soup, complete with elbow noodles and a generous sprinkle of scallions, is just the thing.  I love Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup, and I love macaroni and cheese, why not combine the two? 

Hearty and rich, this soup feeds a crowd, and will keep well in a crock pot on a buffet table. It’s creamy and cheesy but the hoppy beer cuts through the richness, as does the hint of spice from the jalapeno.  There’s plenty of flavor from the Worcestershire sauce and mustard, but I’m a mustard addict so next time I might add an extra teaspoon of it. And if you like more spice, you could certainly add more jalapeno. Be sure to use a beer you like to drink, because the flavor really comes through. I went for an IPA we happened to have in the fridge, and it was lovely.

And for you Steelers fans, not to worry, I’m working on a Pittsburgh-inspired recipe too!

beer cheese soup

Mac-‘N-Beer-Cheese Soup

Serves 6

1/2 lb elbow macaroni

4 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

3 loves garlic, diced

1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

4 tablespoons flour

11/2 cups vegetable broth

1 (12 ounce) bottle beer

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 chopped scallions, for garnish

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a dutch oven.  Saute the onion 1 minute.  Add the carrot, garlic and jalapeno and saute over medium-low heat until the vegetables are slightly brown and very soft. Stir in the mustard powder. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for 1 minute.  Slowly wisk in half of the broth to form a smooth paste.  In a slow stream, wisk in the remaining broth and the beer.  Once well incorporated, add in the cheese and stir continuously until melted.  Add the milk and Worcestershire sauce and then stir in the macaroni.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve topped with a sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm  Comments (22)  
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