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The Mac Daddy

Patrick Cusick

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Dec 12th, 2013

Man holding skillet

Some men never grow up. Well, none of us ever grows up completely. We might lose a step (or several), but – with any luck – we have the good fortune of becoming more refined. Case -in-point: Mac & Cheese.

Mac & cheese from the box was among my favorites growing up. Its brilliant yellow, salty-but-creamy, sticky, gooey goodness didn’t last long once it hit the table – at least not if I was anywhere near it.

Over the years, it’s remained a favorite of mine, but it’s also evolved. As a bachelor, I experimented with creative versions of my childhood favorite, adding extra cheese or some onions, maybe some salsa. Not every attempt landed favorably on my palate, but these forays into actual cooking led me to develop a mac & cheese I’m now quite proud of.

On Sunday, I woke up with one thing in mind: I WANT MAC & CHEESE. So, with the Mission Impossible theme looping though my head, I hopped in the car and headed over to Albertsons to get everything I needed to make my All-Grown-Up Mac & Cheese.

Full disclosure: I do cheat a little when I make this, but I have my reasons. First of all, I’m not Mario Batali. Second, many recipes call for roux and I am of the opinion that roux – even when it’s done correctly – is not so great.

Moving on…

In life and in cooking, there is nothing wrong with taking a shortcut if it works and it doesn’t hurt anyone. In this case I do use a pre-made base for my sauce. The rest of the goods include: pasta, a blend of shredded cheeses, some brie, parmesan, cream, bacon and bread crumbs. Sunday wasn’t my first rodeo picking up the fixins’ for mac & cheese, and I’ve now gotten to the point where Seal Team 6 couldn’t get in and out the store shopping for this meal with a commensurate level of precision.

From there, it’s all pretty simple. I slice up the bacon and render it, boil the pasta and drain it, heat the sauce base and add the cheeses, and then I mix it all together in a casserole pan. Then I sprinkle some parmesan over the mix, dust the top with bread crumbs and pop it in the oven for 15 minutes. Voilà.

So it’s definitely not the iridescent, yellow salt bomb I loved as a kid. But, like the classic mac-in-the-box of my youth, this al dente paste bathed in rich, creamy sauce, complimented by a generous helping of smoky bacon and topped with a savory crust, doesn’t last long either.

All-Grown-Up Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

1 box Essential Everyday Gemelli pasta

Essential Everyday bread crumbs (1/2 cup)

Essential Everyday shredded Colby Jack or Mexican 4 cheese

Culinary Circle grated three cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Romano)

Progresso Recipe Starters Creamy three Cheese

Half & half (1/2 cup)

Smoked bacon (1 pound, sliced)

  1. Boil pasta for 9 minutes and drain
  2. Slice bacon as seen in the photo. Render in a non-stick pan on medium-high until desired texture is achieved (approximately 12 – 15 minutes). Drain in a paper towel.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  4. Pour Progresso Recipe Starters Creamy three Cheese into a sauce pan. Bring to a light boil, then reduce heat to low. Add Essential Everyday shredded Colby Jack or Mexican 4 cheese and half & half. Add rendered bacon, stir and remove from heat.
  5. Pour cooked pasta into a casserole pan. Pour sauce into the casserole pan and mix ingredients evenly. Evenly coat the top of the mix with Culinary Circle grated three cheese, then coat that with Essential Everyday bread crumbs.
  6. Place casserole dish in the middle oven rack for 15 minutes or until top becomes golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  8. Serve and eat. Enjoy.

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