Foodie Blog

Friday, April 22, 2011

Semi-Fancy Mac and Cheese

 Obviously, my picture taking skills are horrible!  I promise that the mac and cheese looks much better in person than in pictures.  The pictures do add those dreaded 10 pounds.  Poor mac and cheese!
 Anyway, this give me another opportunity to tell a Picky story.  This one occurred during the creation of this dish.  The mac and cheese was browning in the oven, and I had just finished checking on it.  The following exchange occurred:

Me:  "What are you doing?"
Picky:  *looking at me with the same expression I have seen my cat give me a million times.  It's the one where my cat is about to knock something over, but I catch him before he can commit his mischief, yet he looks at me and then knocks the thing over super fast and runs away.  So yeah, Picky had a piece of cheese in his hand, and looked at me the same way that my cat looks at me*
Me:  "Don't eat that!"
Picky: *he greedily shoves the piece of cheese into his mouth before I can take it away*

Yes, my boyfriend has now turned into my cat.  Now, I am not some cruel cheese mistress, who only lets Picky look at cheese without eating it.  He had already had some cheese on his egg sandwich this morning, plus, I had added 2 cups of shredded cheese to the mac and cheese sauce.  But no, I guess that isn't enough for Picky.  He acts like he has been cheese deprived!

 Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys this recipe.  I have to admit, this is probably one of the most delicious mac and cheese recipes I have ever made.  And the way Picky was attacking not only his serving, but also the entire vessel containing the rest of the mac and cheese, I would have to say he agrees.  But stay tuned for his review.
Semi-Fancy Mac and Cheese
Inspired by various mac and cheese recipes online

I looked at many mac and cheese recipes online.  Unfortunately, I didn’t keep track of all the ones that interested me, so I’m just going from the things I saw that seemed like a good idea and combining them in one recipe.  As far as cheese goes, I had Picky select three different cheeses and combined them.  Because of the wine, the sauce will be wine colored, unless you go with a white wine.  Or you could add beer instead, but then it would be only a quarter-fancy.
4 slices of applewood smoked bacon, or more if you really love bacon (reserve the fat for this recipe)
2 very large shallots or 5 smaller ones, sliced thinly
1 package of macaroni, or any tube-like pasta that you prefer

3 tablespoons of a combination of unsalted butter and/or bacon fat
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup red wine
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup half and half
½ cup of fontina cheese
¾ cup of aged cheddar
¾ cup of gruyere
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups unseasoned panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons truffle oil or extra virgin olive oil(optional)
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter or oil a 9 by 7 inch baking dish.
Place the bacon in a skillet on medium high heat until the bacon is crispy, but not burned.  Make sure to turn it halfway through cooking (after 2 or 3 minutes).  Remove to a plate with a paper towel and allow to drain.  Chop when it is cool into quarter inch pieces.
After placing the bacon on paper towels, remove most of the bacon fat except for 1 tablespoon.  Lower the heat to medium, or medium low.  Add the sliced shallots to the pan, and stir occasionally until it is light brown in color, about 8 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat (the water will boil faster if you cover the pot).  When it is boiling, make sure to salt the water, then add the macaroni, and boil for the 1 minute less than the package calls for.  The pasta should be a little more than al dente, just slightly.  Since you will put the mac and cheese in the oven, you don’t want the pasta to be too done.  Strain in a colander, but don’t rinse!
After you have started to boil the water, place your butter or bacon fat in a sauce pan over medium heat.  If you are using butter, wait until the butter stops bubbling, add the flour and whisk together.  Cook for a minute or two until the roux (flour and butter) starts to brown.  If you are using bacon fat, let it heat for a minute and then add the flour letting it cook for a minute or two.  Whisk in the wine until combined.  Let this cook for a 2 -3 minutes before you add the low fat milk.  Add a little at a time, alternating between the milk and the half and half, whisking after each addition. Your sauce should be the consistency of alfredo sauce.  If it is a bit thicker than that, add a half a ladle of pasta water to your sauce and wisk.  Add more until it coats a spoon, but isn’t the consistency of gravy.  After all the liquids have been added, add your grated cheeses, one at a time, making sure to whisk after each addition until melted.  Taste your sauce at this point.  You might not need to add salt because of the cheese and the salt contained in the cooked pasta.  Add pepper to taste.  Take the sauce off the heat.  Add the chopped bacon and the shallots.
At this point, combine the sauce and the macaroni in a large bowl and mix together until well combined.  Pour this in your greased baking pan.
Finally, combine the panko, the melted butter and your oil in a small bowl, along with the remaining herbs.  Mix with a fork until well combined.  Spread the combined topping evenly over the mac and cheese and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the top is browned.  Take out and enjoy with a loved one!

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