Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mac'n'Cheese with Bacon

Because the only thing better than a creamy serving of macaroni and cheese is if there's bacon in it.

I'm not into extreme couponing, but I got a 12 ounce package of macaroni off the discount rack for 25¢ by stacking discounts.  Way too good a deal to pass up.  Most of the things there are either out of season or the package size changed and they have to get rid of the last few of the old size.  I don't buy the dented cans.  They're probably safe if you use them soon, but I would rather not risk it.

All of the recipes I researched for this missed the obvious.  They use butter to cook the onion and thicken the sauce.  Hello, you just cooked bacon!  Rendered bacon fat is clear and flavorful.  It brings the taste to every bite, not just the ones including the bits.  I bought bacon ends because it was going to get diced anyway, and there's always a lot of fat in the package to cook down for flavoring.

I had a little cream left, so I mixed that in with the milk.  It did make it richer, but is not necessary.  The wine isn't necessary either, but it does make the cheese melt better and stay creamier.  Plus, the smell when it gets stirred in after the horseradish is pungent and enticing.

Note the side salad.  My little lettuces aren't growing as fast as I'd hoped, but they have definitely taken root.  I picked a few of the outer leaves from the four stronger plants, enough for one small salad when supplemented by my winter cherry tomatoes, which I turned into oven-dried so they wouldn't go bad.  I find this much more satisfying than growing flowers.

2 C dry macaroni
4 slices thick-cut bacon (or 6 oz bacon ends)
*1/2 C diced onion
butter if needed
3 Tb flour
*2 C milk
*1/2 C white wine (optional)
*1 tsp prepared white horseradish
*1/2 tsp paprika
*1/4 tsp turmeric
*dash nutmeg
8 oz cheddar, shredded (about 2 C)
2 Tb grated parmesan
2 Tb breadcrumbs or instant oatmeal

1.  Separate meat from fat of bacon and chop the meat into bits.  In a medium saucepan, cook the bacon  bits over medium until crispy.  Divide into two even amounts and set aside.  Put the bacon fat in the pan and continue to cook until fat has rendered off, then discard pieces.  If necessary, add butter to make the total amount of fat about 3 Tb.

2.  Add diced onion to saucepan and cook until it just starts to brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  It's going to look soupy in all that fat.  This is a good time to start boiling a pot of water for the pasta and preheating the oven to 375º.  You can also use the time to mix together one of the portions of bacon bits, the breadcrumbs, and the parmesan.  Keep that to the side.  It's the last thing we're going to use.

3.  Add flour to onions.  It will absorb the fat and get pasty.  Start to add the milk, about 2/3 C at a time.  Let it thicken between additions.  Your water is probably boiling by now, so stir in the macaroni and keep one eye on the pot so it doesn't boil over.

4.  When all of the milk is in, add the horseradish, paprika, turmeric, and nutmeg.  Start to stir in the shredded cheddar a handful at a time.  When about half of it is incorporated, the sauce will start to get very thick.  Stir in the wine and untouched half of the bacon.  Add remaining cheese and gradually bring the sauce to a low boil.  Remove from heat.

5.  Assuming your pasta is done, drain and rinse.  Return it to the large pot.  Pour about half of the sauce over the pasta and turn to coat.  Add the rest of it and make sure all pieces of pasta are swimming in yummy cheese sauce.  Pour into a 2 qt casserole.  Sprinkle top with the breadcrumb mixture and bake about 15 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and crumbs are crisp.  Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving, to make it easier to handle and less likely to burn tongues.

Serves 2 - just kidding, 4 to 6

Difficulty rating :)

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