September 11, 2012

Kim's Favorite Mac 'n Cheese

I feel like I have pretty plebian tastes. I love meatloaf and chilli. I think my mom's tuna casserole is the bomb (do people still say that? Am I hip to the lingo of today's kids? Word). I've never had champagne that I liked. And I'll take dinosaur chicken nuggets with a cupcake for dessert over some fancy-pants five-course meal anyday. So when I go to a classy restaurant, there generally isn't a whole lot to tickle my tastebuds.

Of course, whenever I'm at a classy restaurant, I feel the need to be as crass as possible. When my mother became worried that my conversations about monkey poo, proper stabbing methods, and whether or not the guy outside would let me finish his fries would get me kicked out, I cited the fact that I was a food blogger, and I could get away with anything because they don't want to alienate the blogger community. We are gods in any restaurant setting (the power! Mwahahahaha).

My brother (who started the conversation about proper stabbing methods, fyi), suggested that I should have demanded macaroni and cheese for my dinner using my power as a food blogger. They had pasta on the menu, and a whole menu devoted to cheese, it would be doable. You know what, though? I probably wouldn't have liked it. Because it would be fancy macaroni and cheese, with weirdy cheeses
I very much prefer my mac 'n cheese to any fancy thing they might have come up with. Pasta coated in my gooey homemade garlicy cheese sauce with bits of cooked onion and bacon, baked until the edges are crunchy, with crispy panko bread crumbs on top. It's not quick. It's complicated. If don't you want that, grab the blue box. But it is comfort food at its best.
I've made this recipe loads of times, and while I never quite make it the same way twice, the basics pretty much stay the same. Some part of the recipes may seem like more suggestion than instruction because of this. You'll also note that I use rotini in the pictures here, rather than the smaller pasta that I recommend. There wasn't quite enough sauce for the rotini, so do as I say, not as I do, eh?
This works as either a main dish or a side dish. Add some tuna or chicken and some broccoli, and it's a full meal. Or, if I may suggest, it goes wonderfully with dinosaur chicken nuggets.

Kim’s Favorite Mac ‘n Cheese {Printable Recipe}
Yield: 6-8 servings

1 pkg. (16 oz.) pasta (smaller pastas such as elbow or farfalle work best)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
4 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt (I use sea salt, but kosher works as well)
¼ tsp. pepper (freshly cracked, if possible)
1½ - 2 cups milk
Approx. 2 cups of your favorite shredded cheese*
Panko bread crumbs and extra shredded cheese, to top (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, but undercook it slightly (by 1-2 minutes). Drain well.

While the pasta is cooking, in another pot add the garlic and butter. Heat over medium-low heat until the butter is melted and the garlic is fragrant. Add the bacon and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is fully cooked and the onion is translucent. Add in the flour, salt, and pepper and mix well. Gradually add in the first 1½ cups milk, stirring constantly. If the mixture seems too thick, add the remaining milk, ¼ cup at a time (the sauce will thicken further as it heats and when the cheese is added, so best to err on the side of caution here). Continue to heat until it starts to boil. Remove from heat, and add the cheese ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. The cheese should be completely melted before the next batch is added. When all the cheese has been added, add the cooked pasta and mix well, making sure to coat each noodle with the sauce.

Add the pasta and sauce to a 9x13 inch baking dish and top liberally with extra shredded cheese and bread crumbs if desired. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.

Tip: I never make this recipe the same way twice. This recipe is based off of my approximations. Feel free to tweak it based on your tastes.

*I’ve never actually measured how much cheese I use. I add it by the handful until it tastes “right,” which is 3-4 handfuls. You might use more or less, based on personal preference.

Recipe by Kim

This recipe is featured on Foodie Friends Friday Linky Party