Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

DSCN0519People of Earth: I am here to tell you that there is life beyond Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

That being said, sometimes it’s just more comforting (and less time consuming) to throw a pot of classic Kraft on the stove with whole milk and a little extra cheddar, but for the sake of this post, we’re going to go to the next level.

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What sets this mac and cheese apart in one thing: Béchamel Sauce. Just four ingredients: flour, butter, milk, and salt. And it absolutely makes all the difference in the world. What it does, is add a bit of depth to the cheesiness. It’s smooth, creamy, and, mixed with the cheese, the shining light in this classic dish. But keep in mind: you have to do a bit of multi-tasking to make this sauce. While the butter is melting, you have to watch the milk which should bubble, but not boil. And the very second that the butter is melted, you have to add the flour and whisk with all your might. Pay attention while you make it, and the reward will be huge.

DSCN0507Look how rich and creamy that is! The only thing keeping me from diving face first into this pot was my fear of severe burns. That’s the only thing.

DSCN0510The wonderful thing about having a recipe for basic mac and cheese is that you can add in your favorite ingredients. For this, I decided on tons of spinach and turkey bacon. The only way you’ll get me to eat my vegetables is with cheese (Is that the Midwesterner in me? I’m not sure.), so bring on the spinach…so long as there’s a cup of cheddar chasing it into the pot.

To me, an essential part of your basic mac and cheese is that satisfying crunch. Toasted panko is perfect for this. About 1/2 sprinkled on top is just enough to add a little extra texture. Try it. You’ll like it.

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Last but not least, don’t forget to pop this perfection in the oven for ten minutes. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Is it time for dinner yet?

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese with Spinach and Turkey Bacon

Ingredients:

Béchamel Sauce:

  •  3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

Bread Crumb Topping:

  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese Bread Crumbs)

Mac and Cheese:

  • 1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
  • 2 cups Mac Sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups grated aged white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 strips of turkey bacon, chopped
  • 3 cups baby spinach (But the amount of greens is really up to you!)

Béchamel Sauce Directions:

Heat the milk in a pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.  (Tip: while the milk is heating, get your flour ready!)

Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When the butter has just melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire 3 cups.

Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Use the spoon test to make sure it’s ready. To do this, dip a metal spoon into the sauce-if the sauce coats the spoon and doesn’t slide off like milk, you’ll know it’s ready. You should be able to run your finger along the spoon and have the impression remain. Add the salt.

The Mac Sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool.

Toasting the Bread Crumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Place the bread crumbs on a baking sheet and set in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the crumbs have turned a golden brown. Set aside.

 Preparing the Macaroni and Cheese:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Cook the pasta according to box instructions. Drain, rinse the pasta with cold water, then drain again.

While your pasta is cooking, now’s a good time to cook your bacon and spinach. What I like to do is: start cooking the bacon first. Once almost cooked through, I add the spinach to the pan. Tip: wring out your spinach as best as you can after rinsing, and before adding to the pan of bacon. It’ll sizzle.

Add the sauce and both cheeses to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat. Stir until the cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the cooked pasta, stir, and continue cooking while stirring continuously until the pasta is hot and steaming, another 5 minutes. Add in the bacon and spinach, and stir. After fully incorporated, remove from heat.

Spoon the mac and cheese into an oven-safe dish, making sure it’s evenly spread. Sprinkle the panko crumbs on top.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it starts bubbling on the edges.

Remove from oven, and dig in. You earned it!

Dish serves 4.

SOURCE: Very loosely adapted from the Mac + Cheese Cookbook: 50 Simple Recipes from Homeroom, America’s Favorite Mac and Cheese Restaurant 

 

Is there such a thing as too much cheese? Answer: No, absolutely not.

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