There are a few things I crave constantly….Mexican food, a big ol’ bowl of spaghetti, and gourmet mac and cheese. For the mac and cheese, we’re not talking Kraft or Velveeta, I’m talking chunks of mushrooms, bacon and pancetta, and drizzles of truffle oil or covered in bread crumbs. The good stuff, ya know?
Though it’s warming up in So Cal we’ve had a few cold weeks that have called for some serious comfort foods, including my beloved mac and cheese. Would I eat this every day? No. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s heavy despite the fact that all clean ingredients are used.
I like to think of this meal as proof that you don’t have to sacrifice flavor and heartiness just because you’re eating clean. It’s one of the best mac and cheeses I’ve ever had, and I made it! Creamy, cheesy elbow macaroni with chunks of bacon and a slight spice from the pepperjack and cayenne – seriously gluttonous! Don’t like spice? I also made this with Colby and was just as happy – feel free to sub out the spice.
I cleaned up this recipe (click)
1/2 lb. whole wheat elbow macaroni
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp ground mustard
Dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2.5 cups organic half and half
8 oz. organic pepperjack cheese, grated
8 strips of cooked organic bacon (4 if it’s thick cut)**
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
** I’ve been baking my bacon in the oven on a foil lined baking sheet lately and I think it’s a great way to prepare the bacon for this recipe – place bacon in oven, turn it on to 400 degrees, and let it cook about 20 minutes. I always put it on a paper towel lined plate when it comes out. You can cook the bacon in advance.
- Preheat the broiler.
- Boil your macaroni noods according to package with a pinch of salt until they’re done. Drain and set aside.
- Using the same pot, melt butter until it’s all bubbly.
- Next, you’re going to make a roux: Add flour, mustard, cayenne and garlic powder to the melted butter and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking about 1 minute, until mixture is mixed completely.
- Slowly begin to add your half and half, about a cup at a time, and bring the mixture to a BOIL while whisking constantly.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer. Whisk occasionally, and ensure it maintains a creamy consistency – about 3-5 minutes.
- Whisk in cheese, bacon, and salt/pepper to taste. Add drained pasta and continue to stir for about a minute.
- Transfer mac and cheese to a broiler safe pan or dish and sprinkle bread crumbs on top (I used two meatloaf pans). Place in the broiler for about 4 minutes until the crumbs are browned.
The mac and cheese will be very hot when it comes out, so allow it to cool a bit and then dig in!
You may have noticed a funny word above – “roux.” Have you heard of it? I hadn’t taken notice of it until I made a dreadful batch of broccoli cheese soup with a poorly executed roux…I knew I had to improve my rouxing skills. Allrecipes.com explains roux like this, “Roux (“roo”) is used to thicken sauces and soups. Pre-cooking flour allows the starch granules to swell and absorb moisture, and lets you thicken a sauce base without the flour clumping or forming lumps.” So in our case, we wanted a thick, creamy cheese sauce with no lumps in order to have the world’s best mac and cheese, and it was a culinary success! Roux can be used in many other recipes, like soups, gravies, and sauces. I have found that committing to whisking is essential for a good roux! There are times when I think all hope for my roux is lost, but if you persevere, it’s likely that little bugger will turn around and live on to serve its purpose as a thickener.
I’m open to hearing any of your roux tips, and let me know what you think of the mac and cheese!