Recently at work, one of the magazines floating around the nurses’ station was sporting the picture of a decadent mac and cheese on its cover. We were all drooling and oohing and aahing over it, wishing that we could have some of it right then. The recipe included four cheeses, although I really have to voice disagreement over the claim of four cheeses. Let’s be honest–“American” cheese is really a “pasteurized, processed cheese product”. That’s how it’s labeled and, well, that’s really and truly how it ought to be labeled. Kind of embarrassing to have to live with that title in a world of such incredible true cheeses. Makes me want to skulk around in shame. Oh well. It is what it is and most of us proudly slap it on our burgers and nachos and smile the whole time we are inhaling our food. It definitely has a place in our culture.
As I have done a little bit of research on American cheese, I have found, much to my surprise, that there are different blends of American cheese. The best ones are made from cheddar and Colby with a couple of other ingredients tossed into the mix for texture. I checked out the different brands of individually wrapped pasteurized processed cheese products (aka cheese slices) at a local grocery store. One of them stated that it was “deluxe”–okay, it did look better than most of the others. Another one in a generic white, black, and clear plastic wrapper stated “pasteurized, processed, imitation cheese food product”–too scary to contemplate.
Oh, and have you ever wondered about how the “American” cheese slices get into those little wrap-around sheets of plastic? The cheese slurry is poured onto the plastic, allowed to cool, and then the plastic is wrapped around the “cheese” and sealed. And there are members of my immediate family who love the stuff…because I gave it to them when they were children.
Tangent again. Sorry. I’ll get back to that recipe from work now.
I tried that recipe and in a word, yuk. So, I went back to the drawing board and read some recipes. I found another recipe from the New York Times that I thought might be the ticket to working well with the two best parts of the recipe from that magazine recipe from work, namely bacon and onions. It was a hit.
For the Crusty Macaroni and Cheese with bacon recipe, I ended up buying a good quality American cheese, Boar’s Head, at the deli counter. I have to admit, I sort of like it. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone over completely to the dark side, I still LOVE all kinds of snooty, aged to perfection, pricey cheeses. Hey, if ever there are any people with some serious cheese power who are reading this post, I would gladly taste-test your cheeses for you. Shoot, I’d even promote them to the five people who read my blog, especially to the three people who have had the courage to sign on as followers! (I’m laughing out loud; it feels really good!)
- 4 slices of bacon
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
- 12 ounces American cheese or cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
- 1/2 pound elbow pasta (about 2 cups)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Use one tablespoon butter to thickly grease a baking dish. (The size depends on how thick you like your mac and cheese. I used a square 10″ x 10″.)
- Dice bacon and fry until crisp. Reserve about 2 tablespoons bacon fat in pan.
- Over medium heat, saute diced onion until translucent.
- While bacon and onions are cooking, prepare macaroni noodles according to package directions just until tender. Drain, then rinse under cool water. Drain well after rinsing.
- Combine grated cheeses and set aside two cups for topping.
- In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, cheeses, cayenne (if using) and salt to taste.
- Place in prepared pan and evenly pour milk over surface.
- Sprinkle reserved cheese on top, dot with remaining butter and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes.
- Raise heat to 400 degrees and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, until crusty on top and bottom. (I did not do this step because the mac and cheese was already crusty after 45 minutes. Your oven may cook things differently, so be sure to take a look at the mac and cheese before you bake it at 400-degrees.)
This stuff is really good. It is very filling, so you’ll want to serve it with something light, such as a tossed salad..
As an alternative to the bacon, you could use diced ham. It would lighten up the dish somewhat and would also be very tasty.