I so love macaroni and cheese! It’s the ultimate in comfort food. Ever since I was a little girl and my mom would make (the best ever) homemade mac and cheese while my friends were all eating that weirdly orange boxed stuff (powdered cheese? eeuuuwww.), I’ve relished the warm, melty, cheesy goodness that tastes like home. If you don’t like macaroni and cheese, you’ve obviously never had it homemade, and definitely not on a cold, rainy day.
Now that I’m all grown up (I’m a big girl!), my tastes have changed. I’ve expanded my horizons and refined my palate, and acquired a taste for finer foods. But I still love me some cheese! True, it’s not Velveeta anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a dinner out of it!
This is totally besides the point, but it involves cheese, so here goes. Last night, (being Sunday, which is pig-out day), Mr. Gorilla and I ordered pizza to quench a craving and use a coupon. No, we didn’t get a 10 inch, thin-crust, artichoke heart pizza. Not at all. We got TWO pizzas, pure New York style, one of which was topped with bacon. And we ate them. Down to the box. Both of them. Yes. Six hours later, we were still lying motionless, in extreme pain, and even now, 24 hours later, I still don’t even want to look at food. The salt content alone made me drink about a gallon of water last night, and I’ve only peed out a small fraction of it – I guess my body really did need it. I’ve taken two laxatives and two water pills, and I still feel like crap. There is a lesson here for all of us, folks – on pig-out day, don’t go for sheer volume, just quench a craving. Be wise about your food choices. One pizza would have been plenty, and the bacon topping was just plain irresponsible. We are both paying the price. Please, please, learn from our mistakes!
Anyway, back to the mac and cheese. Like I said, I was in the mood for it, but my tastes are all grown up. So I decided to grow-up the macaroni and cheese, too! It’s a pretty basic recipe, but I substituted some really nice aged cheese and some tangy seasonings. Give it a shot! But don’t eat the whole thing – it freezes well, I promise.
Bacon Cheddar Mac
1 pound ziti, cooked
7 ounces aged white cheddar (Irish, if you can find it), shredded
3 thick slices applewood smoked bacon
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
black pepper, cayenne, red curry powder to taste
Cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy, and drain on paper towels.
Here’s where it gets really bad – you’re going to yell at me – but trust me – in the same pan, with the bacon grease STILL IN IT, add the butter, and heat until melted. I know, I know, you can feel your arteries hardening already. You’re making macaroni and cheese with bacon. Put aside the pseudo health scruples just for tonight.
When the butter is melted, add the flour, whisking vigorously to combine. Do not let it burn. DO NOT!
Add the milk, again whisking furiously. See? You’re getting a little workout. Everything is fine. Turn the heat to low.
Now add the cheese, and stir with a wooden spoon. Put away the whisk, or everything will get all caught up inside and be counterproductive.
Using kitchen shears, snip the bacon into tolerably small bits, and stir into the cheese sauce. Now add your seasonings, tasting as you go.
Add to the pasta, and toss to coat. Pour the whole mess into a glass baking dish, and bake at 350 for about 10-15 minutes, or until cheese firms up and gets all glossy.
A note: No matter how beautiful your cheddar cheese is, sometimes it won’t melt nicely. It gets gloppy and weird instead of creamy and lovely. Never fear! If your cheese is not everything you wanted it to be, just add about 1/2 cup cream cheese and stir until combined. That will keep the cheddar in line, and restore vital creaminess to the dish.
This dish is also very accommodating in that you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge or freezer until the mood strikes.
It is, however, VERY cheesy. I served it with a thick slice of tomato and a mixed greens salad to cut the cheesiness a little. I almost said cut the cheese. <snort>