Baked Macaroni and Cheese

True confession – one of my guilty pleasures is “blue box” macaroni and cheese. That said sometimes you want something more “grown up”, something with a bit of depth to it. This recipe, based on one we’ve used for years from Joy of Cooking, hits that spot.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni (8 oz.)
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ancho chile powder
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup “red matter” (or 1/2 cup diced onion)
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 oz. Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 oz. Colby-Jack cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Use 1/2 a tablespoon of butter to thoroughly grease the inside of a 1 /12 quart baking dish.
  2. Bring 12 cups of water to a boil. Add the kosher salt and allow water to return to a boil. Add macaroni and cook per the directions on the package (it was 11 minutes for me). “Al dente”, or even slightly under, is desirable here as the macaroni will bake in the sauce.
  3. While the pasta cooks melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and ancho chile powder; use a whisk to incorporate these ingredients into the butter. Cook the mixture for 1 minute; stirring constantly.
  4. Add the milk and whisk to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and add the “red matter”/onions, paprika, pepper and sea salt. Stir until well incorporated. Cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.
  5. Add about two-thirds of the grated cheese and stir until melted.
  6. When pasta is ready drain and add to the cheese sauce. Stir until all of the macaroni is coated with sauce.
  7. Transfer half of the macaroni and cheese to your prepared baking dish. Sprinkle about half of the remaining grated cheese over it. Add the remaining macaroni and cheese and sprinkle the last of the grated cheese over it. Distributed the Panko bread crumbs over the entire dish.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the dish half way through cooking to promote even browning.
  9. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Notes:
“Red matter” is a guajillo and caramelized shallot jam that my husband makes in large batches a couple of times each year. We use it in braised greens, stews, stir fries and, mac and cheese. You can substitute diced onion if your husband doesn’t provide you with this bounty.

I turned the broiler on 450°F for 3-4 minutes to help brown the top of my macaroni and cheese.

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Roasted Red Pepper Cheese Puffs

The name may sound fancy (c’mon, cheese puffs sounds highfalutin to me) however they are simple to make and can be created in many variations. I first had a similar creation, made with fake crab meat, 20 years ago.

One of the best parts is that you can make them well in advance and store them in the freezer for up to a month before using. Great when you there are unexpected guests or you are prepping for a big party.

Roasted Red Pepper Cheese Puffs
Servings: 12-18 (72 pieces total)
Prep time: 10 minutes plus 1 hour in the freezer
Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers, skins and seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped black olives
  • 1 pickled jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely minced (optional)
  • 1/2 lb. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 English muffins, split in half

Directions:

  1. Mix the first 6 ingredients in a bowl until fully combined.
  2. Place about 2 Tbsp. of mixture on each English muffin half. Spead into an even layer over the muffin.
  3. Cut each muffin into 6 wedges. Place wedges on a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1 hour.
  4. When ready to arrange the oven rack 4-5″ from the broiler. Preheat broiler (use 450°F if you need to enter a temp like I do) for 5 minutes. Transfer half the cheese puff wedges to a separate baking sheet. Bake for 4-5 minutes, rotating sheet once for even browning. Serve immediately.

Notes:
I used jarred roasted red peppers for this as I had them on hand. I removed 2 from the jar and placed them on paper towels to dry them a bit. You certainly can use home-prepared roasted red peppers if you have the time and inclination.

If you want to store these rather than bake them off right away then transfer the frozen wedges to a zip top bag after the hour freeze in step 3. They’ll keep for a month (or longer).

While these work test with an hour in the freezer you can bake them right after making. They’ll cook up in 1-2 minutes so keep an eye on them lest they burn.

Cheese Bread with Caramelized Shallots

Ted made this to go with slow cooker chicken & mushrooms. It was very good. More than very good. As with many quick breads it is dense and great for sopping up gravy. We served it with some red pepper jelly we bought; that combination was very tasty.

Cheese Bread with Caramelized Shallots

We’re going to try making Welsh Rabbit with the leftover bread. I suspect it will be amazing.

Cheese Bread with Caramelized Shallots
Servings: 1 loaf
Prep time: 45 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes plus time to fully cool

Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • 15 oz. all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, cold
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, cold
  • 1 egg, cold
  • 4 oz. smoked cheddar, grated on large side of a grater
  • 4 oz. smoked Havarti, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ cubes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep pan with cooking spray. Place 1/2 the grated cheddar in the bottom of the pan.
  2. Over lowest heat in small pan slowly caramelize shallots in olive oil & paprika (mixed together). ~30 minutes. Strain the shallots, retaining the olive oil. Set aside the shallots to cool. Add the butter to the olive oil, allow it to melt and then cool for approx. 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add cubes of Havarti and cooled shallots, breaking shallots into flour with fingers so they are evenly distributed.
  4. Combine buttermilk, sour cream and egg and mix well. Pour the butter and olive oil into the wet ingredients. The butter will solidify into small bits.
  5. Plunge wet ingredients into dry. Stir only until combined with spatula.
  6. Transfer batter into the pan; distribute evenly. Sprinkle remaining cheddar over the top of the bread.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer; the bread should reach 195°F when it is fully baked. Cool 5 minutes and depan. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Notes:
Ted used a cheese quick bread from The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition as inspiration for this recipe.