Adolescent Half-Baked Mac 'n Cheese
In the case of mac ‘n cheese, the child in me would have jumped for making the stuff out of the cardboard box. Mix the orange-yellow-ish powder with hot milk, boil the macaroni in water and voila! —something that looks and tastes like mac ’n cheese. Kind of. But hey, at least it doesn’t involve getting my hands smelly with herbs and I don’t have to grate my own cheese, let alone having to deal with a roux.
My adult side wants something more sophisticated: a little more complexity in flavors (i.e. something other than “American Cheese”) and hell of a lot less artificial chemicals. I am also ever-so-slightly wiser; cheese sauce components should not have a shelf life measured in years. And I would like to make a more versatile, multidimensional entreé too, adding fresh, signature touches to the dish—perk it up with some spices, throw in some meats, or —if I become an evil parent —sneak a few vegetables in. All those customization options reminds me of Color Me Mine, but with art I can eat.
Often, in food and in life, my adult and child strikes a compromise – and so I present the my Adolescent, Half-Baked Mac ’n Cheese.
- 1 pound of dried pasta, preferably a shape that easily picks up heavy sauce
- 1 1/2 pound of cheese, shredded - preferably cheddar, colby jack and/or mozzarella
- 8 strips bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk, whole or reduced-fat
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons white truffle oil (optional)
- 1Cook pasta as instructed on package (to al dente), let it drain and cool.
- 2Set aside 2 strips worth of bacon and sauté the rest with mushrooms over medium-high heat. After cooking, mix with 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, toss with the pasta and set them in baking dishes (I used two 9-inch silicone pie/cake pans, if you want a more substantial crust on bottom or side, use metal or glass bakeware).
- 3Heat the milk in saucepan over medium-low heat, making sure it doesn’t go above simmering. Meanwhile, start preparing the roux on a double boiler (or an improvised one like me, with a pyrex glass bowl over a large pot of boiling water)—throw the butter in and let it melt, then slowly whisk in the flour until it is smooth. Afterwards, gradually mix in the heated milk.
- 4Set aside 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the shredded cheese, gradually add the rest to the milk mixture and keep stirring/whisking until smooth. Add the remaining garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Taste-test and season as needed. Preheat oven to 400 F.
- 5Ladle generous amounts of cheese sauce over the pasta/bacon/mushroom and toss until they are well covered with sauce. Top with remaining shredded cheese & uncooked bacon.
- 6Pop it in the oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes.
- 7(Optional) Top the baked mac ’n cheese with white truffle oil and serve it up!
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