Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mac & Cheese Makeover

Good evening everyone! We stumbled upon an accidental theme with this week’s recipe – revisiting old favorites. Maggie got us started by making another variant in the endlessly customizable world of frittatas and I’ll close out the week by paying another visit to a blog classic – baked pasta dishes.

There is a plethora of pasta options available to the average consumer, so it makes sense that there are endless possibilities when it comes to cooking up these variants. One particular favorite of ours has been to bake the pasta with some form of meat and cheese combination and crispy topping. This process takes something normally geared towards kids (say, mac & cheese for instance) and ‘matures’ it for the whole family.

Food Network is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and to commemorate the occasion, it featured its most popular recipe (by online views) in the October issue of Food Network Magazine. When I saw what the recipe was and who it was by, I was taken by surprise. Not only was it a baked macaroni and cheese dish – but it was created by none other than blog favorite Alton Brown. How we had not tried this recipe for ourselves, I have no idea – but we’re amending that wrong tonight!

The Recipe: Baked Marconi and Cheese (With bacon!)
Original Recipe Found In: Food Network Magazine, October 2013 Issue

What You’ll Need:
(Serves 6)

½ Pound Elbow Marconi
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Powdered (Ground) Mustard
3 Cups Milk
½ Cup Onion (Diced)
1 Bay Leaf
½ Teaspoon Paprika
1 Large Egg
12 Ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Shredded)
4 Strips Thick Cut Bacon (Cooked crispy & diced into small pieces)

For The Topping:
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs

* The original recipe does not call for bacon, but I opted to add it for two reasons. 1) I thought the salty bacon flavor would contrast nicely with the cheese flavors and 2) bacon makes everything better. Omit if you want to keep the dish meat free.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your macaroni according to package instructions. Drain of excess water and set aside.

While your macaroni is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and mustard, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. Make sure to whisk until all clumps and dry spots are gone. Allow this mixture to simmer for 1 minute, but stir occasionally to prevent burning.  

Next, slowly whisk in the milk, onion, bay leaf and paprika. Bring the mixture to a light simmer and then allow it to cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the bay leaf.

Crack your egg into a small bowl and whisk it vigorously with a fork. Next, temper your egg by adding 2 tablespoons of the sauce from the large pot into the bowl. Whisk again to incorporate evenly. Slowly whisk the egg into the dutch oven. (We temper the egg to prevent instant scrambling when we add the cold egg to the hot sauce. By adding a tablespoon or two of the sauce, we raise the egg’s temperature and make sure it takes evenly to the sauce without cooking immediately).

Stir in the cheese in small handfuls, making sure the cheese is melted completely before adding another handful. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the sauce prior to folding in the macaroni and adding the bacon (if using). Stir well and then transfer the macaroni to a 2 quart casserole dish. Set the dish aside while you prepare the topping.

In a small saucepan or pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Toss in the bread crumbs and stir until most of the crumbs have absorbed the butter. Sprinkle these crumbs across the top of the casserole dish and then place the dish in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bread crumbs have turned a nice golden brown color. Once browned, simply serve and enjoy!

The Results:

There are few things that can compare to the classic ‘home cooking’ flavors of baked mac & cheese. The sauce was a perfectly balanced blend of not to rich or creamy cheddar, which complimented the bacon beautifully. The best part of this dish, however, was the bread crumb topping. After 30 minutes in the oven, the crumbs became extra crispy and added a perfect contrasting texture to the soft macaroni. Simply put, there’s a reason this recipe is #1 on Food Network’s website. If you’re looking for a warm and filling dish for a cool fall evening, you cannot go wrong with this baked mac & cheese recipe!

That’s all we have for you this evening. We’ll be back on Monday with a brand new recipe from Maggie, followed by a new dish from me on Wednesday. There’ll also be another bonus post coming along sometime next week – so be sure to stop in and see what we’ve got cooking. Until then,


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