Smoky Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese

If you follow me on Pinterest, you might find that I have a rather unhealthy obsession with macaroni and cheese.

A pin board full of decadent variations on mac ‘n’ cheese, you say? Isn’t that a tad … excessive?

Perhaps, but the fine folks at Homeroom, an Oakland, California-based restaurant, understand my deep affection for the ultimate comfort food. The restaurant, which serves mac ‘n’ cheese exclusively, recently came out with a cookbook featuring 50 of its own recipes called “The Mac + Cheese Cookbook.”

Friends, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Now, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese and I have a tumultuous relationship. There is nothing more frustrating than grating blocks of expensive cheese and spending an hour in the kitchen, only to find that Kraft’s blue box has bested you again. It’s enough to make a girl throw in her apron.

Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant. But autumn is here, and there is nothing better than curling up with a warm bowl of homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, so I decided to try again.

“The Mac + Cheese Cookbook” takes a unique spin on the mac ‘n’ cheese process. They’ve simplified the steps – it’s truly mac plus cheese plus pasta. Their “Mac” sauce is a simple béchamel sauce (pronounced BAY-sha-mel), which is essentially a white sauce that is used as a base for many other sauces and is traditionally made by whisking warmed or scalded milk into a white roux. Don’t be scared- a roux is just equal parts of melted butter and flour and is used as a thickening agent. Darn the French for making cooking sound so intimidating!

Once you’ve learned how to make the béchamel sauce (and it’s easy!), you have conquered the hardest part in making mac ‘n’ cheese. From there, you can follow the recipe as listed below, or choose your own cheeses and come up with your own creation.

A few tips from the folks at Homeroom: Don’t substitute skim or 2 percent for whole milk. We want rich, creamy pasta, so let’s take that walk after dinner and just enjoy the mac ‘n’ cheese for what it is. A salad it is not. And when they say whisk, they mean it. Whisk constantly or your béchamel sauce won’t have the smooth consistency it needs. Your sauce can also become lumpy if you pour the scalded milk in too quickly, so take your time. And of course, this isn’t the time to cut corners and buy pre-shredded cheese. Find yourself a good cheese grater and do it yourself! It only takes a minute, and is so worth the effort.

I’m sharing with you the Smoky Bacon Mac ‘N’ Cheese recipe, which is as rich and decadent as it sounds. A word of caution: Make sure you like the taste of smoked cheese before you make this, because it has a strong flavor.  Normally, I’m a believer that more is better when it comes to cheese, but in this case, I would follow the suggested portions.

I doubled the recipe because we had company and, well, I wanted leftovers, but keep in mind the suggested serving size is hearty. If you want to bake the mac ‘n’ cheese after it is cooked, simply place into a baker, top with toasted Panko crumbs and bake on the middle rack at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes.

If you share my love for mac ‘n’ cheese, feel free to follow me on Pinterest (Michelle_Cwach) and send me your favorite mac ‘n’ cheese recipes! Bon Appétit!

For the Béchamel (Mac Sauce)

Ingredients

3 c. whole milk
½ c. butter
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat 3 cups whole milk in a pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

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 the 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. This is normal.

Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2-3 minutes, the sauce should come together and be silky and thick. Use the spoon 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. Store in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time – it will get a lot thicker when put in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to thin it out a bit when it comes time to melt the cheese. Try melting the cheese into the sauce first and if it is too thick, then add milk as needed.

Smoky Bacon Mac ‘N’ Cheese
Ingredients

½ pound dried elbow pasta (large)
1 lb. sliced bacon
2 c. béchamel sauce
1 c. grated smoked Cheddar cheese
1 c. grated Jack cheese

Directions

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain the pasta again.

Cook the bacon in a frying pan over high heat until crispy, about 8 minutes. Remove extra grease by patting the strips with a paper towel, and then cut into bite-size pieces.

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. Add the bacon and stir to combine. Slowly add the cooked pasta, stir and continue cooking while stirring continuously until the dish is nice and hot, another 5 minutes.

Spoon into bowls and serve hot.

Source: “The Mac + Cheese Cookbook” from Homeroom, written by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade

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