Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Evolution of My Holiday Baked Mac 'N' Cheese

*Delayed post alert. There has been so much going on back on the homefront in the DMV/Maryland. For those that follow my personal page on Facebook, thanks for the prayers!

Baked macaroni and cheese is one of those things you just cannot mess up or use an "imposter" like "Easy Mac" or "Stouffers" for Sunday or holiday dinners in my family. We're not mean, we can I put it? It's like our pastor at the very first church my husband and I attended faithfully together and called home would say "It's so beautiful when you stay in your lane! Amen somebody! I've got the beverages!" He even yielded some folks to venture over to the neighboring Bojangles for sides when we had family game nights or Superbowl parties. He would say "Bojangles has dirty rice and biscuits...Amen...Amen...Somebody!". As you have probably already concluded, if you weren't blessed in this particular arena, experimenting on the congregation (or victimizing) was not encouraged.

As for our family and Sunday dinners, it's a "Tale of Two Mac's". Usually myself or Ericka is tapped to make the macaroni and cheese. Ericka's has sour cream and mine has a cheese sauce. My recipe is a combination of two baked macaroni and cheese recipes that I tweaked, swapped and merged. I kept what I liked from each, and whatever I did not like I dropped and subbed out. Traditionally growing up we would take the boiled noodles and add the milk, egg, salt, pepper, tablespoon of flour and stir together to coat. The tablespoon of flour was an accidental add in made by Ericka early 2000s and it turned out to be genius! It made the macaroni and cheese extra fluffy. Anyways, after all of the ingredients were added we would top with mild cheddar cheese and bake. *DJ record scratches*

More tweaks over the years, for instance going from 1 cheese to 3 cheeses! Ericka's next tweak, using the sharp cheddar cheese, colby jack and monterrey jack cheeses. She tried cottage cheese once too but decided to stick to her sour cream. By the mid 2000 to late 2000s.

I ditched the sour cream, dared not to even try cottage. I kept the 3 cheese deal, as it took it to a whole other level of 3D cheesiness for a great taste, rich too. However, the downside was that no matter how hard I tried, I still ended up with dry noodles. Aargh! I can't stand a macaroni and cheese dish with dry noodles, it's a pet peeve of mine. But then one day I stumbled across the Neely's Baked Macaroni and Cheese 'dump' and learned a new method. Learning how to make a cheese sauce from a flour and butter roux changed my life! I used their method, and a few add ins of theirs that I liked merging it with our recipe. I ditched alot of things from theirs mainly keeping their cheese sauce method.

For holidays only, like Thanksgiving and Christmas I will top the macaroni and cheese with lightly fried bacon. I let it finish crisping in the oven to give the casserole decadent and a little bit of a smokey flavor.

I've been using this final recipe which is the result of alot of tweaks and some merges since 2010 when my husband and I were in our new home with our baby girl and decided to have our very first Thanksgiving Dinner and start our own tradition.

I knew I nailed it when my husband's best friend nearly fell over the table and fainted. He was silently nodding and smiling through chewing. He liked everything on the plate but he said "the mac n' cheese...its soo good...WOW and it's got kick too what's in it?!" He said it had kick but it was like an undertone, it didn't over power.

My Holiday Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 1/2 to 2 cups of lightly fried bacon crumbles
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 pounds of elbow macaroni cooked al dente (if you can find them use the ones with the grooves)
1/2 quart of milk
1 1/2 - 2 lb of mild cheddar cheese (shredded or crumbles) *may or may not use all
1 1/2 -2 lb of Colby and Monterrey jack cheese (shredded or crumbles) *may or may not use all
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon of onion powder
2 1/3 cups of flour (All purpose will do)
2-3 dashes of your favorite hot sauce (I used Frank's)
1 teaspoon of paprika

Using a large saucepan melt your butter until it sizzles. Add in your flour and whisk until the flour turns blonde like sandy crumbles. Next, add in your milk; you want to make sure the milk covers at least 1 1/2 - 2 inches in depth of your saucepan. Next, add in all of your seasonings and hot sauce. Stir together until blended in well with the milk. Slowly add in and whisk your cheese crumbles or shreds until your have a sauce that resembles a "queso" for nachos. Do this over low heat to prevent your milk from curdling and your cheese separating and turning into a large ball of cheese gum. It's a low and slow process. The sauce should be thick and stretchy. In a large casserole dish or aluminum baking pan you should have your elbow macaroni on reserve. Slowly pour your cheese sauce over your noodles to coat them generously. Then, I usually add in any leftover cheese in cubes and/or crumbles interspersed here and there discreetly to make my macaroni and cheese extra cheesy! Usually about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of cubes or crumbles. I top it with shredded or thin rectangular slices, and finally top with the bacon crumbles. Last, I bake my macaroni and cheese uncovered for 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. I allow it to set for at least 15 minutes before serving so that there won't be noodles and cheese sliding everywhere and to get nice neat squares. The cheese sauce should firm up to be almost custard like after you allow the casserole to set.

**Yields a large portion, can feed up to 8-12. 

Check out my video for my method.

I am slowly building up my kitchen gadgets and still replacing things. We purged so much before moving. I just improvise with what is left and building as I go. I have to admit though, after the struggle of shredding/ pulsing cheese in my blender I ended up getting The Chew's 5 in 1 Slicer. I am still getting used to it but may post a review soon. Why not just buy shredded? I save a good amount getting 2 lb blocks from Sam's. Hope you all enjoy the video and the recipe!

I am entering this recipe into the Dairy Good Cookbook Sweepstakes which I discovered via Divas Can Cook.

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