Mary Catherine’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Mary Catherine, though she doesn’t blog regularly, seems to be taking over my blog with all of her great articles. A few weeks ago she shared her do-it-yourself guide to Weight Watchers, and today I’m sharing her best macaroni and cheese recipe, according to her husband.

The original recipe for this was Alton Brown’s baked macaroni and cheese, but I changed it quite a bit because of our food preferences and what we had on hand.  I don’t like buying spices that I will only use in one recipe.

What you will need:

1 lb. box of rotini pasta (we just like rotini better, even though I know it’s not traditional macaroni)
6 slices of bacon
2 cups frozen peas (I usually just estimate by about half of small bag)
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
1 tbsp. dried mustard powder (I did buy this specifically for this recipe, but it’s worth it)
hot sauce (I usually add just a little for some extra flavor)
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups shredded cheese + a little extra for the topping (we use mild cheddar)
1 cup breadcrumbs tossed with a little bit of melted butter (how much you need will depend on how thick you like your crust and the dimensions of your pan; we use the Pepperidge Farm herb flavored kind; I would highly recommend them)

What you will do:

Cut the bacon into small squares and cook over medium high heat until brown and crispy.
Remove bacon from the pan and drain the fat.  There is no need to wash this pan or use another one.  Fewer pans, fewer dishes.

Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat.

Once the butter is melted, slowly add the 3 tablespoons of flour.  You may not use all 3, or you may need more.  If you’ve never made a roux before, it can be frustrating the first time.  You’re basically cooking the flour.  Once you have the butter/flour combined, keep it moving until it’s cooked to a dark yellow/blond color.  It will start to smell a little nutty.

Now is probably a good time to start the water for your pasta and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the roux is at the right color, slowly add the 3 cups of milk.  Keep it moving.  Using a whisk here really helps to break up the roux and incorporate it into the milk.  Room temperature milk works best, because if you add milk that is too cold too fast the roux will seize up into one giant clump. Even if this happens, it’s OK.  Just strain it out, dump it, and continue to make the sauce.  The difference is just in the thickness of the finished product.

Keep stirring the milk/roux regularly and let it heat over medium low temperature.  Add salt, pepper, mustard powder and hot sauce at this point.

Once the milk has warmed and thickened (usually about 10-15 minutes), add the shredded cheese.  Stir it in until it’s mostly melted.

Now add the cheese sauce to the cooked, drained pasta and mix it all together.  Throw in the bacon and frozen peas (no need to thaw them out before this point; they will cook in the oven) and combine.

Pour the entire mixture into your casserole.  On top, add a small layer of shredded cheese.  Then sprinkle the butter-coated bread crumbs on top of the cheese.

Stick it in your oven and let it go.  Cook time will depend on the dimensions of your casserole.  Ours is really tall/narrow, so it takes a little bit longer to cook than if you were using a shallow dish.  I think I usually cook mine anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes.  I just check it after 20 minutes and pull it out when it’s golden brown and bubbly.

We just eat this by itself.  It also reheats really well for lunch the next day.

Thanks, Mary Catherine! Christian and I thought we had found the most delicious mac-and-cheese recipe, but we might have to try yours before we say that for sure.

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