Tag Archives: mac and cheese

Meatless Monday: Bacon Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese

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The other day I was on the cross trainer at the gym and bam! vegetarian bacon cheeseburger mac and cheese popped into my brain from god-knows-where. As I added up the miles in my workout, all I could think about was an ooey gooey cheese sauce laden with Gimme Lean sausage, pieces of bacon, and perhaps something like tomatoes to add some color. Something had to be done.

Later on I realized that this idea very, very much reminded me of the Hamburger Helper my mom occasionally made when we were kids. (Side note: did you know that these days if you go to Betty Crocker’s website, there is a whole array of “Helper Products?!”) While these days I can do without a mysterious packet of “cheese sauce mix” and rely on real ingredients, I do fondly remember the cheeseburger Hamburger Helper I so very much loved and learned to cook from this guy:

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This mac and cheese is creamy, flavorful, easy to put together and went over well with the kids and adults, both. I used Tillamook smoked black pepper white cheddar but if you cannot find that where you are, please feel free to use pepperjack cheese in its place.

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Bacon Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese

Serves 6-8 folks.

Ingredients:

1 pound large elbow macaroni
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
one 14-ounce tube Lightlife Gimme Lean Ground Sausage
one 5-ounce package Lightlife Smart Bacon, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces smoked black pepper white cheddar, shredded
4 ounces havarti cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Generously salt, then cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Strain and set aside until needed.

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In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and garlic, salt and pepper, sautéing until the onion is translucent and tender. Crumble the Gimme Lean into the onion mixture (it’s sticky, but do your best with it). Stir occasionally until the Gimme Lean begins to brown. Add the diced bacon into the mixture, again stirring occasionally until the bacon begins to brown and crisp slightly. Scoop the mixture out into a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, return the heavy-bottomed pot to the stove. Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, until smooth. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens (5 to 7 minutes). Add the cheese in, about a half cup at a time, stirring to fully incorporate each new addition. Continue stirring until you are left with a thick, creamy cheese sauce. Add in the mustard, salt, pepper and garlic, stirring to evenly distribute everything. Reduce heat to low.

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Pour the pasta into the cheese sauce, then stir to make sure every inch of pasta has been covered with sauce. Add in the Gimme Lean mixture and the halved tomatoes, folding everything together.

Serve while hot.

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Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

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Up until this year, I had never really roasted a pumpkin. Sure, I’ve cooked butternut squash, delicata squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash… but those lovely orange pumpkins that start showing up in late September well through the winter? Nah. I always just resorted to the canned stuff – but for almost $4 per 15 ounces of organic pumpkin – I just stock up when it goes on sale. But one morning when one of the water polo moms came to pick up a batch of pumpkin protein muffins I was sending along for the team, she said she had a gift for me. When she opened up her trunk, there sat a handful of cute little pumpkins. “They’re organic and come from my garden!” Janet told me excitedly. “Pick one!” She told me I wasn’t allowed to carve it – it needed to show up in a recipe on my blog. So here we go, Janet!

When one of the parents decided to host a team dinner for the water polo teams (girls and boys), I volunteered to contribute a main dish. Since there was a pasta theme already, with sides of garlic bread and salad, I decided homemade macaroni and cheese was usually a hit for the vegetarian players (like my stepson) and non-vegetarians, alike. Janet proceeded to donate four more pumpkins, so I decided to roast them and incorporate them into the cheese sauce.

I love fresh pumpkin of numerous varieties, including most winter squash. The added health benefits also make me feel a little less guilty for eating massive amounts of macaroni and cheese. One cup of mashed pumpkin contains more than 200% of your recommended daily Vitamin A needs. Plus it’s super low in calories while being high in fiber. Pumpkin contains more potassium than a banana per serving, which helps to restore the body’s balance of electrolytes – so a good option for post-workout or post-game food.

This macaroni and cheese isn’t overly pumpkin-flavored, but the natural sweetness that comes through balances with the heaviness of the creamy, cheesy sauce. I am certain that various types of squash could be used within this recipe, such as butternut or acorn, but I have yet to experiment with those.

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Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6-8 people.

Ingredients:

For the macaroni and cheese:
1 1/2 pounds penne pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 ounce fresh sage leaves

For the sauce:
1 medium cooking pumpkin (3 cups cooked and mashed) *
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 stick butter
10 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups half and half
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper (black is okay, too)
8 ounces extra sharp white cheddar, shredded
4 ounces havarti cheese, shredded
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
4 ounces monterey jack cheese, shredded

* If fresh pumpkin is not available to you, you can use canned pumpkin puree. NOT pumpkin pie filling – that is not the same thing. Use 3 cups of canned pumpkin in place of the fresh pumpkin puree.

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Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a large sheet pan (or two).

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Prepare the pumpkin by removing the stem, then halving it lengthwise. Scoop out all the fibers and seeds. Cut the pumpkin into slices about two-inches wide. Place on a baking pan, flesh side-up. Drizzle the pumpkin generously with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until the skins are wrinkled and the pumpkin is very fork-tender. Remove from the oven and allow the pumpkin to cool long enough for it to be handled. Peel off the skins (you may or may not need a knife to do this). Blend the pumpkin flesh in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside until needed.

Mince the fresh sage. Melt the four tablespoons of butter over medium heat, in a small saucepan. Stir occasionally, until the butter begins to turn golden brown. The butter will get really frothy on top. Continue stirring constantly, paying close attention. (Golden butter goes to burnt butter very quickly!) The golden butter should start to smell semi nutty. Keep stirring until the butter reaches a dark golden hue. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the minced sage until well distributed. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs until they are all nicely coated. Remove from heat and set aside until needed.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, until smooth. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the half and half. The mixture will immediately thicken, just keep stirring. Once the half and half has been completely incorporated, stir in the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens (4 to 5 minutes). Stir in the salt and pepper. (It’s important that you add the salt at this point, not earlier into the sauce-making. Added too early, your sauce will be overwhelmingly salty. Added now, it’ll seem a bit salty at first, but the final product will mellow this out a bit.)

Add the cheese in, about a half cup at a time, stirring to fully incorporate each new addition. Once all the  shredded cheese has been added, continue stirring until you are left with a thick, creamy cheese sauce. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Reduce heat to low.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until the noodles are just past al dente. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles, then stir to make sure every inch of pasta has been covered with sauce.

Pour the pasta into a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the buttered panko breadcrumbs. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly at the edges and the breadcrumbs are nicely golden in color.

Serve while hot.

* Alternatively, if you prefer your macaroni and cheese creamy with no bread crumb topping, you can cook the sage brown butter, but do not add any panko. Instead, stir the sage brown butter into your pasta and sauce when mixing the two together, then serve immediately, skipping the baking step all together.

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Creamy Jalapeño Mac & Cheese

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Sometimes a girl reads about mac and cheese about thirty times in ten minutes, while browsing through her blogroll, then sees about ten other mac and cheese photographs over her instagram feed. Forty different mac and cheeses, mind you. The obvious thing that happens then is this girl gets to craving macaroni and cheese for a week before she finally gives in and says, “Okay, self. Let’s go for it.”

So here we are. I admit: those creepy macaroni and cheese products that come in rectangular cardboard boxes? I occasionally let that be okay. I opt for the organic, Annie’s variety, even though I never follow the directions and always add more cheese (un-powdered-varietal), hot sauce, and nutritional yeast… But homemade mac and cheese is a whole different animal.

I’d like to tell you I’ve made stovetop and baked versions of macaroni and cheese so many times I absolutely have a go-to recipe, but I don’t. Until now, perhaps. This recipe is by far my favorite, backed by nearly 15 years worth of mac and cheese making experiences. I think previously, I overanalyzed my methods. I tried to make a perfect sauce that often ended up too runny after being baked, or picked the wrong cheeses that just didn’t taste alright in the end result. I’ve followed recipes that include eggs in the sauce. I’ve cooked the noodles too hastily, without enough time (or salt).

Let’s get real. Mac and cheese is a straightforward beast (a handsome, good tasting sort of beast, that is). It begins with a bechamel (which is just fancy for a sauce made of butter, flour, milk, salt, and pepper – the latter two ingredients being an exception, elaboration, if you will). The real trick is in the cheese. Do not go for cheap, not-so-good cheese. That’s where the majority of the flavor is going to come from. Typically cheeses that have a little bit of age to them (say 1 1/2 to 2 years minimum) will give you the best flavor. And salt? Don’t skimp at the salt. It brings out the taste of the cheese (really, even though cheese is often a bit salty on its own).

This particular macaroni and cheese features fresh hot peppers. If you want a less spicy mac, you can use sweet bell peppers or anaheim peppers, or even poblanos that will add some pepper flavor without the spice. If you’re one of those folks who prefers a creamy mac and cheese to the crispy-topped baked version, you can eat this as soon as the sauce meets the noodles. Just skip the breadcrumb and baking portions of this recipe.

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Creamy Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6-8 people.

Ingredients:

For the macaroni and cheese:
1 1/2 pounds elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

For the sauce:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups half and half
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 oz. extra sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. havarti cheese, shredded
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup finely diced fresh jalapeño peppers (or whatever variety you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

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Directions:

If you are going to be baking the macaroni and cheese, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Melt the  two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs until they are all nicely coated. Remove from heat and set aside until needed.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, until smooth. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the half and half. The mixture will immediately thicken, just keep stirring. Once the half and half has been completely incorporated, stir in the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens (4 to 5 minutes). Stir in the salt and granulated garlic. (It’s important that you add the salt at this point, not earlier into the sauce-making. Added too early, your sauce will be overwhelmingly salty. Added now, it’ll seem a bit salty at first, but the final product will mellow this out a bit.)

Add the cheese in, about a half cup at a time, stirring to fully incorporate each new addition. Once all the  shredded cheese has been added, stir in the cream cheese. Continue stirring until you are left with a thick, creamy cheese sauce. Add in the finely diced peppers, stirring to evenly distribute everything. Reduce heat to low.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until the noodles are just past al dente. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles, then stir to make sure every inch of pasta has been covered with sauce.

Pour the macaroni into a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the buttered panko breadcrumbs. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly at the edges and the breadcrumbs are nicely golden in color.

Serve while hot.

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Gluten Free Green Chile Sweet Corn Mac and Cheese

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The last week has been a whirlwind. While I’ve got more than a few recipes ready to show up on this little blog, the last handful of days have been long and come 10:30 at night, the last thing I want to do is sit at my computer trying to write cohesive sentences. School finished last Friday for Silas. My husband finishes up tomorrow. I turned 28 on Monday. Silas turned 8 today. Tomorrow we’re hosting his first friend-sleepover. Somewhere in there, we’ve been dealing with at home hospice-type care for my sweet Nikki dog, who’s dealing with a degenerative disease we cannot do much of anything about, except wait. Or lay on the kitchen floor with her, gently petting her head until she relaxes enough to sleep, followed by getting up every 2-3 hours in the night, or throughout the day, to help her outside to use the bathroom, because her back legs are paralyzed and she can’t walk without physical assistance. Aside from her legs, she’s in good spirits most of the time and her mind is entirely coherent.

While the birthdays have been good breaks from the stress of things, lending good food, cocktails, a multitude of doughnuts, and a new iPhone, the days are still long. Thankfully, the place I go to for peace of mind is the kitchen. Or the garden. Or the ocean, but that’s not located in this Oregon valley. Let’s return to the kitchen… The idea for this macaroni and cheese hit me as I lay in bed one night. I have a habit of reading food blogs late at night, which ultimately does two things: leaves me feeling incredibly hungry at one in the morning and also inspires the following day’s meals.

I often prefer a crisp topped homemade mac and cheese, but decided to leave this dish creamy. Since I used brown rice flour in the roux for my cheese sauce and quinoa pasta, this mac and cheese is also gluten free. I was a little skeptical of sweet corn in any sort of pasta. However, the fresh sweetness that the corn lends balances beautifully with the green chiles, as well as the creamy havarti and monterey jack cheeses used in this sauce. We had this as a side dish one night, with vegetarian meatloaf and green beans. The next night, as the main course. You can serve it however you’d like! :)

 

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Green Chile and Sweet Corn Mac and Cheese

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients:

6 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup oat or brown rice flour
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. granulated garlic
¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp. dried mustard powder
2 cups whole milk
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups sweet corn kernels (about 2 medium-large ears of corn)
1- 4 oz. can mild green chiles
1 pound quinoa elbow pasta
½ cup grated havarti cheese
2 cups grated monterey jack cheese

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt and a drizzling of oil. Add the quinoa pasta, then cook according to the package directions. Once the pasta is cooked just beyond al dente, drain it, reserving about one cup of pasta cooking liquid.

While the water is coming to a boil for the pasta, melt the butter in a medium-large pot, over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, then cook for an additional 10 minutes, to allow the “flour taste” to cook off.

Stir in the salt, garlic, pepper, and mustard powder until completely combined. Whisk in the milk and heavy cream, all at once. Occasionally whisk the mixture, making sure the sauce remains smooth, until it thickens up (15-20 minutes). Stir in the sweet corn and green chiles. Taste the sauce, then add more salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the macaroni, until well coated. If the cheese sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water, stirring until smooth.

Allow the macaroni and cheese to cook over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, then serve immediately while still hot.

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Bleu Cheese Mac and Cheese

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At times I am nearly positive that I reside in a peculiar realm of craziness. Sometimes my days bring an overwhelming sense of urgency and half the time I am not certain what that is born out of. The days move by so quickly, it’s easy to feel like I forgot to stop and catch my breath somewhere along the way.

We had a weird week filled with dreary cold and overcast skies, skin-tingly cold temperatures, sunshine, hail, rain, sunshine, semi-warmth. Then suddenly, as quickly as it seems to take my eyelashes to touch just below the eyes, all I find is life springing up around our yard – little green plants, flower buds galore, fresh herbs tenderly journeying through the surface they’ve slept beneath for the winter.

How does that happen? Where does time go? All I know is that in this strange lapse of time and days, all I want to eat is breakfast and pasta. Maybe cookies. Maybe cookies and beer (I don’t apologize for that being “lunch” one late afternoon earlier in the week). I don’t know where the idea for this macaroni and cheese came from, save for the abundance of bleu cheese currently residing in our refrigerator.

The flavor is creamy, slightly pungent but not in an overpowering way. It’s warm and approachable, even for someone weary of stinky cheese. I served this alongside some baked buffalo tofu, although I’m not quite ready to divulge that recipe as it didn’t turn out exactly how I’d like. The marriage of buffalo sauce and bleu cheese, however, was irrefutable. The unpredictable spicy kick with a notable, albeit mellow and still earthy creamy cheese? I’d gladly spend all my missing days eating this pasta.

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Creamy Bleu Cheese Mac and Cheese

Serves 6-8 folks.

Ingredients:
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
½ a small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. granulated garlic
½ tsp. ground mustard powder
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground white pepper
pinch of fresh nutmeg
6 cups whole milk
8 oz. bleu cheese crumbles
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
optional 4 oz. American cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 lb. whole wheat penne pasta
water
salt

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, generously adding salt. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the butter has completely melted, add in the minced onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until the onion is completely tender.

Whisk in the flour, salt, granulated garlic, mustard powder, cayenne, white pepper, and nutmeg. Continue stirring to create a smooth paste. Allow the mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes, to cook off the flour flavor.

Quickly add in the milk, all at once, whisking continuously. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Add in the bleu cheese, cheddar, parmesan cheese, and American cheese, if using. Stir continuously to make sure the sauce is smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk.

Remove about ¼ cup of the hot cheese sauce, whisking it into the beaten egg (to temper the eggs, assuring you don’t wind up with scrambled eggs in your sauce). Add the tempered egg to the rest of the sauce, whisking quickly to combine everything.

Meanwhile, drain the cooked pasta. Return the noodles to the large cooking pot, then pour the cheese sauce over the pasta. Stir everything together over medium heat. Allow the mac and cheese to cook for 5-10 minutes before serving, hot.