Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bacon, Onions and Gouda = Decadent Mac n Cheese

I'm sorry for not posting all weekend, but I was a little busy with plans for a surprise dinner party for my husband's thirtieth birthday, which went off without a hitch last night. But now I'm back, and today I'm going to talk about the comfort food classic I allowed my family to indulge in for Sunday dinner; homemade mac n cheese.

Now, I'll admit something totally geeky. I'm a big fan of Next Food Network Star, and I like cooking something spectacular on Sunday nights so that when I watch the show afterwards, I can feel like I could dominate if I ever went on that show. Yes, I warned you ahead of time that it was totally geeky :) Anyway, I was craving mac n cheese something fierce, and I decided to kick it up a notch with some bacon. Nothing terribly original went on in my kitchen on Sunday night, but it was something terribly delicious.

To make the mac n cheese:

Begin by cooking 8 strips of thick cut bacon over low heat on a skillet. This will probably take as long as half an hour (flip them when they look mostly browned). You might be tempted to use higher heat to speed the process along, but don't do it. Cooking it slow over low heat allows your bacon to develop more flavor. While your bacon is cooking, dice a block of smoked gouda into small little cubes. You will want to end up with about a cup and a half of gouda cubes. You should also use this time to finely mince half an onion. Set both aside. Once the bacon is cooked, reserve it on a plate in the fridge and set a pot of water with a handful of salt to boil. Now you will move onto your sauce.

You will begin the sauce by adding about half of the bacon grease into a sauce pan over medium heat. Throw in the onions and sweat them a little until they are just beginning to become translucent. At this time, add in 3 tbsp of flour and combine it well with your onions and bacon grease. This is your roux. Cook it over the medium heat for about five minutes, stirring occassionally. While your roux is cooking is the best time to chop up the bacon. Reserve three strips to use as a topping, but chop the other five into crumbles. Now it is time to add the milk to your roux. Making this sauce is not an exact science, and you will just need to add however much milk as it takes to create the consistency of a thick liquid, whisking constantly as you go. It might seem too thin at first, but it will thicken up as it cooks. You may find that you need to add more milk as it thickens. That is ok. Still over the medium heat, bring this to a boil, continuing to whisk frequently. Any time you make this type of sauce, it is of paramount importance that you give it time to boil (about ten minutes). The boiling breaks down the starchiness of the flour to give your sauce a smoother texture and better flavor.

Now would be a good time to add your pasta to the boiling water. I used fusilli, but any pasta would work in this application. Stir your pasta occassionally as it cooks. Return your attention to the sauce. Reduce the heat to low and add in your gouda, whisking slowly to incorporate it. It will take a bit of time to melt since those are cubes of cheese. Once the gouda is melted, add in about a cup of shredded sharp cheddar. This will melt much faster. Once the cheese is all in, add the bacon crumbles. Your sauce is now ready to top the pasta whenever it's ready, but you will have to continue whisking it frequently until you use it.

Drain your pasta and then return it to the pan you cooked it in. Pour the whole sauce over the pasta and mix well. Pour the whole thing into a baking dish and bake it at 350 for about twenty minutes, or until it is bubbling. While the mac n cheese is in the oven you will want to chop the remaining three pieces of bacon. When your mac n cheese comes out you will top it with the extra bacon crumbles. Fresh chives are a great garnish for this dish as well.

If you are craving comfort food, nothing will satisfy that craving quite like this dish. I thought fleetingly of adding some celery to the sauce to sautee with the onions, or of sauteeing some mushrooms to add here, but I decided against those things because I felt like unadulterated bacon, onions, cheese and pasta in a dish really personified comfort food. The best part of all is that aside from how long it takes to cook the bacon, this is not a really labor intensive meal, and it yields enough to feed six people who will all be very happy when they're done.

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