Well, I guess January is turning into a retro food month.
This weekend was all about mac and cheese. And I'm not talking about Kraft's neon-orange cheese powder. I'm talking gloriously baked, creamy and buttery, breadcrumb-topped, three-cheese, bacon-mushroom-chicken mac and cheese.
Let me back-track a bit.
Recently, I made my first trip to Yard House, and was pleased to confirm that the food's good, and the alcohol's great. And I totally dig the classic rock tunes. I love eating, drinking and being merry while listening to the Stones and Zeppelin! ... But that's probably for another kind of blog.
Anyway, my first-ever Yard House dish choice was the (Mac and Cheese)^2. Kind of a boring selection, I know, but I felt like something hearty and comforting: "roasted chicken breast, applewood smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, cheddar and parmesan cheese with castellane pasta and white truffle oil."
And I'd thought about that $16 mac and cheese ever since.
So here's my Yard House-inspired grown-up macaroni and cheese recipe. Except I don't use white truffle oil -- I was all out, of course. Silly me. But I did decide to throw in Gorgonzola for an added kick. Take that, Yard House! (It's like that one time I totally one-upped Rachael Ray's chicken cordon bleu burgers by using prosciutto instead of ham and Gruyère instead of regular ol' Swiss.)
Glorious Baked Macaroni and Cheese, courtesy Yours Truly, with a little inspiration from Yard House and a little help from Williams Sonoma (which provided the foundation for this recipe)
1 lb elbow macaroni, cavatappi, cellantani, or other tubular pasta
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk, heated
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
4-6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese (or other blue variety), crumbled
1 can chicken breast, or roasted (real) chicken breast, sliced
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, to taste
1 cup FRESH* sourdough breadcrumbs
10 slices bacon
Cremini mushrooms, as much or as little as you like, quartered
Fill a large pot with water and set it over high heat. Boil the pasta to slightly underdone (it will cook more in the oven); drain. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
As you're waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, be productive! Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until barely simmering; remove from heat and set aside. Process cubes of crusty sourdough bread (if it's a day old, it'll make it easier on you) -- go ahead and process the crusts, too -- until you have a cup of breadcrumbs. Set aside.
* Yes, I highly recommend using freshly made breadcrumbs -- they will give a crunchier, yummier texture than store-bought breadcrumbs.
Start your roux: Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour; whisk to incorporate into the butter. Cook 1-2 minutes without over-browning. Add the milk and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil; remove from heat.
Add the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses a large handful at a time; mix well.
Toss the pasta with the cheese mixture in a large bowl. Add the chicken now, if you got it from a can. Add it later if you're using roasted chicken breast. Or you can add it now, whatever.
Fold in the Gorgonzola -- 4 ounces if you like it mild, and up to 6 ounces if you prefer the potency. Add salt (keep in mind that you will be adding bacon later), freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.
Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray, or grease with butter. Spread pasta mixture into dish; sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over pasta. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and pour over breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes, or until top has browned.
While macaroni is baking, cook the bacon; drain on a paper towel. (Adding the bacon to the dish later will maintain its delightful crispiness.) Discard most, but not all, of the bacon drippings.
Brown the mushrooms in the remaining bacon drippings over medium-low heat. Add a pinch of salt to bring out a little of the moisture, but be wary not to make them soggy. They should be browned and fragrant, but still firm. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
When the macaroni is ready, serve some up in a bowl, and top with sliced roasted chicken breast, mushrooms and crumbled bacon. Then say, "YESSS."
Is your tummy grumbling yet?