Thursday, June 3, 2010

A fresh look at an old, musty favorite - mac n' cheese

Everybody loves mac n' cheese.  The problem is, everybody loves THEIR OWN mac n' cheese, or their mom's mac n' cheese.  This can cause mayjah problems when two people decide to become one - because inevitably one will cook their macaroni and cheese, and the other will say "ya's...ok, but it's not as good as <insert name of choice here - usually "mine" or "mom's">" thus starting WWIII and ensuring an uncomfortable night on the living room couch...or two...or three...

I love my mac n' cheese without sauce.  Cook some macaroni, throw in a can of drained fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic, and a stick of cubed cheddar.  Cook until melted and top is sort of crusty.  No one else in my family likes it that way.  Good thing, because that is the only food I can seriously pig out know...where your stomach is saying "STOP!!! PLEASE!!!!" and your brain is cackling maniacally and growling "no...No....NO!'s SO GOOD!!!!! Muahahahaha"  Hubby and kids like mac n' cheese with sauce - hubby is not crazy about mac n' cheese, but he'll eat it - I think it stems from his college years where his diet consisted of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (1$/box) and beer.  Kids are very picky about the sauce.  It can't have eggs in it (southern style), it can't be too pasty, too thick, too thin, too cheesy, or not cheesy enough, and inevitably they never agree. 

I decided to try and come up with a recipe that would please everyone to save me some hassle.  Something healthy, cheesy, with some veggies, flavorful, yet not wallpaper paste.  However, if I called it mac n' cheese, hubby's mouth would be expecting the stuff out of a blue box, and he would say in a disappointed tone "This isn't macaroni and cheese..." so I had to come up with another name (it's one of his quirks).   I haven't thought of one - so I told him it was my take on mac n' cheese, but for grown ups.  He accepted that explanation.

It's easy to make and tasty.  The best part is...EVERYONE in the house liked it!  Yay!! And Bill, it has Durkee's Fried Onion Rings - your favorite, so you have to try it.  Until I think of a name for it, I am just going to call it 21st Century Cheese Bake

Ingredients: (As always, printable recipe HERE)

2 cups medium shell pasta
1 bag baby spinach
1 cup low fat cottage cheese, small curd
4 oz thick sliced applewood smoked bacon, uncured - Trader Joe's has an uncured applewood smoke bacon that is da bomb.  If you can't find uncured, you can get cured, but uncured = no nitrites.  You can also use hickory, maple, whatever you want
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
2 tbs each of flour and butter
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 cup shredded swiss
2 oz. gorgonzola cheese - you can use bleu cheese if you want - I prefer gorgonzola I think it's creamier and a bit milder.
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. truffle salt to taste- OK...if you don't have truffle salt - get some.  A little goes a LONG way (you will taste the 1/4 tsp in the sauce) and it gives a sort of earthy flavor to what you are cooking without adding any fungi *grins*...It will last you forever.  You may be able to find it at some cooking store, or William Sonoma but honestly? you can get it cheaper online.  It will still be pricey, but you WILL have it for a LONG time, making it worth the while.  Try it on eggs, risotto, pasta...make sure you get Truffle salt with truffles in it, not "flavored" I got mine here and it was about $22 for a 3.5 oz jar.  Again, it will last you a LONG time.  Worth the investment.  You can omit it if you don't have any.
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce to taste
Durkee's Onion Rings for garnish (a small 3 oz. can should be enough)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and place bacon on a sheet pan. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, or until crisp. Drain on paper towels. When cool, crumble.  Thank you, Ina Garten for turning me on to this method of cooking bacon.  No messy stove top, no spattering, just perfectly done bacon and half the cleanup.  Wow.

2. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Place spinach in colander, you can press it down if need be to fit. Pour hot pasta water into colander over spinach, then just dump the pasta on top of the spinach and drain. The spinach will wilt down considerably between the hot water and the hot pasta.

3. Heat butter over low heat until melted. Add flour and cook stirring, for about 2 minutes.  It will get bubbly and thick.   While you are cooking the flour/butter mixture (aka roux), heat 1 1/2 cups of milk in the microwave for a minute or a minute and 30 seconds until warmed but not scalded.

4. Gradually whisk the warmed milk into the roux until combined. Stir til thickened. Use a whisk - it will help prevent lumps.  Once everything is combined you can switch out to a wooden spoon if you want.  It will thicken up slightly.

5. Remove from heat, add all the cheeses, Worcestershire sauce, truffle salt, black pepper and bacon. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Dip a finger in, and determine what you need - more pepper? perfect the way it is? a pinch more truffle salt? More Worcestershire? Don't be afraid to tinker with the seasonings. Toss with the pasta and spinach, mixing well.

6. Place in a 7 x 11 inch baking dish and cook in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. The last 15 minutes of cooking add the Durkee's Onion Rings on top. When done, remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. If you like your onion rings well done (see the pic) you can put them on at the start of cooking time, but mine were bordering on getting burnt, so hence the suggestion of adding them the last 15 minutes of cooking.

This is a great way to get your veggies if you don't happen to like many veggies *kaffCHRISTINAkaff*, it's easy to make, and ohsoyummy.  Enjoy!!!


  1. omg. i need to eat that NOW. i just had chipolte and rice krispies and i'm stuffed...but that makes me hungry again....mmmm.

    definitely on my to do list now :)
    ps:and i dont even like mac and cheese!nice twist.

  2. and you even get to eat your spinach!