Get Off The Couch and Cook

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Baked Macaroni and Cheese

bakedmacaroniandcheesetitleI thought today would be one of the best days to post, in my opinion, the ultimate comfort food.  Having grown up on either the bright orange boxed mac and cheese or the kind my mom would make using Velveeta, macaroni and cheese is one of THE comfort foods I crave when I am feeling stressed or down.  But while the processed cheeses have their place in my heart, nothing beats a good old-fashioned, made from scratch bowl of cheesy love.

I once again have to send out props to Mr. Alton Brown for giving me the base to my own mac and cheese recipe.  I’d tried so many versions and none of them were quite right.  They were either too dry or too runny or not cheesy enough.  Plus, in mine, I often add bacon.  Yep.  Bacon.  But it’s optional.

bakedmacaroniandcheese4Homemade mac and cheese is actually a lot easier to make than you may realize.    You can even assemble it ahead of time then refrigerate it for 24 hours to bake it later.  Since this has become a holiday staple at our house, that’s usually what I do.  Just wait until just before baking to top it with  he buttered bread crumbs.

The trickiest part of making this is tempering the egg which you need to make the cheese sauce nice and thick.  If you just add the egg to hot liquid, you get hot liquid with cooked egg.  So, instead, you put the egg in a bowl and beat it lightly.  While whisking with one hand, slowly drizzle a spoonful of the hot liquid into the egg with the other hand.  Do this about 5 times and then you can safely whisk your egg mixture into the pan without having cooked egg bits in your noodles.

bakedmacaroniandcheese1

The cheese sauce, waiting for the noodles and bacon. See? No egg bits!

The prep for this takes roughly the time it takes to make the boxed stuff, maybe 5-10 minutes longer.  And yes, it does have to bake for 30 minutes after that, but that’s down time if this is what you are having as your main course.  I usually do mac and cheese as a side with a lean meat and veggie but it’d make a great dinner as well.  Just steam up some broccoli and you have yourself a meal!

As a side dish, the 3 fat grown adults in my household manage to get 8 servings out of a dish of this.  I love when meals stretch into lunches for me. 🙂

bakedmacaroniandcheese3 Don’t like a crunchy top on your mac and cheese?  Just leave it off.  It’s still good!

Oh! You are wondering why I thought today was good reason to post comfort food?  Because tomorrow is my birthday and I’m apparently supposed be having a hard time turning 40.  Yep.  I’ll be 40 tomorrow.  I am seriously okay with it, though.  I earned every one of the years I have behind me and look forward to next 40 or 50.  I have an image in my head of what “40” is supposed to look or act like and… well… that’s not me.  I don’t look 40 and I certainly don’t feel 40.  But I’m proud to have made it to this mile marker and will continue to be honest about my age.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
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Cook time: 
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Makes: 8 servings
 
Definitely spend the extra 3 minutes and shred the cheese yourself. Preshredded cheese has an anti-clumping agent that won't allow it to melt smoothly.
Ingredients
  • 8oz pkg whole wheat elbow macaroni
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp powdered mustard
  • 3 c skim milk
  • ½ lb bacon, fried, drained and diced
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 16 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cook pasta for 1 minute less than the minimum time on the package directions.
  3. Meanwhile, while the water is starting to heat, in a separate pot over medium heat, melt 3 Tbsp of the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep whisking for 3-5 minutes. It should be lump free and light golden brown. Stir in the milk, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it starts to thicken.
  4. Temper in the egg*. Stir in ¾ of the cheese and whisk until it is nice and smooth. Fold the macaroni and bacon into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
  5. Melt the remaining 3 Tbsp butter in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds. Stir in the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Notes
Tempering an egg: break the egg into a small bowl. While whisk the egg with one hand, drizzle about 1 Tbsp of the hot sauce from the pan in with the eggs. Do this with 3 or 4 more tablespoons until the egg is well mixed and warm. Add the mixture to the pan.
If you do not temper the egg and add it directly into the pot, you will just result in bits of cooked egg in your mac & cheese since the sauce will cook it. Tempering it first helps make a creamier sauce in the oven. I learned this the hard way. 🙂

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