Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Homemade macaroni and cheese is so much better than that stuff with the orange powder.

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Taking mac 'n' cheese beyond the little blue box

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6D

Could it possibly get any better than mac 'n' cheese for dinner? Probably not. Which is why we've included not one, but three mac 'n' cheese recipe options for your dining pleasure. You're welcome.

We found this recipe for "really the best-ever mac 'n' cheese" a few years ago – and though I don't know if I would agree that it's the best ever, I love the fact that it takes just over an hour to make, perfect if you're thinking about what to put on the table for dinner tonight.

Like a little spice? Try the version from Purple Palm at the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs. Its recipe gets a nice kick from puréed chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. The subtle heat provides a nice contrast to the rich creaminess of the sauce and makes for a fun take on this favorite dish.

And just when you thought mac 'n' cheese couldn't get any better, the Rackhouse Pub in Denver decides to add beer to this quintessential comfort food. And it's magical. The recipe combines no less than five – yes, five – kinds of cheese in a rich base lightened with a cup of amber ale and then bakes it all under a crust of panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese to rich, crisp, golden perfection.

Really the best-ever mac 'n' cheese

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Serves 12 to 16

Note: Use large shells such as chiocciole or conchiglie, or large elbow macaroni.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon melted butter

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup flour

5 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided

3 cups shredded Swiss Gruyère cheese

1 pound shells or elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions in salted water

1/2 cup heavy cream

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the panko breadcrumbs with the melted butter on a small baking pan. Toast the bread crumbs until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted, then stir in the flour. Heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Add the dry mustard, white and cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and bay leaf. Heat and stir to boiling, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf.

Stir in 3 cups of the cheddar and all the Gruyère until melted. Pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, stirring until all the macaroni is coated. Pour the macaroni into a well-buttered 9-by-13-inch casserole. Drizzle heavy cream around the edges of the casserole. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese, then the toasted bread crumbs.

Cover the casserole with aluminum foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. Put under a preheated broiler for 5 minutes.

Per serving: 415 calories; 19 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 25 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 75 mg cholesterol; 565 mg sodium.


Spicy mac 'n' cheese

Total time: 55 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Note: Adapted from Purple Palm.

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream

2 to 4 tablespoons puréed canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (puréed using a food processor or blender), or to taste

1 pound grated medium cheddar cheese (about 5 cups), divided

Salt and pepper

1 pound macaroni

INSTRUCTIONS

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil to cook the macaroni. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until it makes a smooth paste.

Whisk in the milk and cream, making sure there are no lumps, then whisk in the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.

Stir in all but 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, a little at a time, until all the cheese is melted and incorporated. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Remove from heat and set aside in a warm place.

Cook the macaroni according to the manufacturer's instructions. Drain the cooked macaroni and stir the noodles in with the cheese mixture.

Place the macaroni and cheese into a greased 8-inch square baking dish and sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top.

Place the baking dish in the oven and cook until the top is golden brown and the cheese is melted through, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly before serving.

Per serving: 589 calories; 24 grams protein; 47 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 34 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 108 mg cholesterol; 894 mg sodium.


Beer-baked mac 'n' cheese

Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Serves 12 to 16

Note: Adapted from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup amber beer

2 cups half and half

1/2 pound Brie

16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese

1 1/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 16-ounce box penne pasta, cooked and drained

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium, heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a light roux. Slowly whisk in the beer and half and half.

Add the Brie and cream cheese to the sauce, stirring until the cheeses are melted and incorporated. Stir in the Gorgonzola, cheddar and 1 cup Parmesan cheese.

Stir in the pasta, taste and adjust the seasonings as desired with salt and pepper (some of the cheese will be salty and the mixture may need only a little salt, if any).

Pour the mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top the mixture by sprinkling over the remaining Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the toppings are crisp and golden, about 1 hour.

Cool slightly before serving.

Per serving: 566 calories; 20 grams protein; 29 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 41 grams fat; 25 grams saturated fat; 123 mg cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 611 mg sodium.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Noelle Carter



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