Posted by: Erin | September 23, 2009

Bacon Always Wins

My friend Lily and I have been friends practically our entire lives: we’ve known each other since the days of pigtails and fingerpaints. And as you would expect, I ate quite a few dinners at her house. I like her mom, so dinners were fun, but I remember the letdown of mac and cheese night. Now, I love mac and cheese. But for most of my life, that meant strictly Kraft mac and cheese (or “Kraft dinner,” as my Canadian buddy calls it). So when Lily’s mom would tell us it was mac and cheese night, I was always psyched to stay for dinner, and then ultimately was disappointed when we got to the table. (Apologies to Lily – please don’t tell your mom!)

Anyway, like I said, until recently, that’s how I thought of mac and cheese, and it’s made me very picky about it. Generally, if it’s not out of that blue box, I’ll pass. (The one exception to this is the lobster mac and cheese at Tremont 647, which is awesome.) So I was a little wary when I saw Cooking Light’s bacon mac and cheese recipe. How this thing is “light,” I have no idea – it’s roughly 400 calories per serving (1 serving = 1 cup). But I digress.

It’s an easy enough recipe, though I imagine it will go faster now that I’ve done it once. I cooked some Barilla Plus elbow pasta that I had leftover in my pantry, instead of the recommended strozzapreti or penne pasta. I’d like to think this made it a little healthier, if nothing else. I’ve never been able to persuade myself to eat whole wheat pasta for more than a mouthful, but the Barilla Plus seems to be a satisfactory in-between, at least in terms of taste. And since there was going to be cheese on it and all, I decided the slight taste variation wouldn’t be a big deal. (And it wasn’t.)

When that was done, I drained it and let it sit while preparing the sauce. Hint: the flour and milk will cook up and start to resemble thickened paper mache if you let yourself get distracted by, say, the ridiculous soapiness of One Tree Hill. (Rachel Gatina married Dan Scott? What now?!) So don’t do that. I managed to salvage the flour/milk mixture by mashing up the clumps and stirring in the remaining cup of milk (I halved the recipe) quicker than I probably should have. So it can be fixed if you make a mistake, but it’s probably better to just pay attention in the first place.

Though I halved the recipe, I used the original amount of bacon (2 strips). Even so, it still felt like there was very little bacon in the mix, and though I could smell it, I couldn’t really taste it. I’m debating whether that’s because I cut the bacon up into very small bits or simply because there needs to be more bacon involved. (More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle, if you will.) I also substituted minced shallots for green onions, because I had shallots and not green onions. (I’m becoming a fan of shallots on the whole – I’ve never liked onions, and shallots seem to accomplish the same things, but taste better to me. I have not, however, gotten used to how quickly my eyes start stinging when I start chopping them.) I think I’ll leave them out next time, though, because I think it creates a smell that put me off, even though the dish tastes great. I haven’t really thought that part through yet, just pretty sure I’ll leave them out next time. Oh, and I left out the hot sauce, because, well, I don’t like it. So there.

The only other alteration I made was to use reduced fat cheddar. This was not my original intent. I tend to buy Cabot’s 50% light cheddar, because it’s a little healthier but without losing much of the cheddar flavor, but what I’ve learned is that it melts poorly. It sorta dries out and gets bubbly. I haven’t determined if that really alters the flavor much, but the texture can be off-putting. Shaw’s has Sargento cheese on sale this week, and since the recipe calls for “finely shredded cheddar” (which I figured would melt easier), I went for that. I knew I didn’t want to use the Cabot cheese, even though that’s what was in my fridge. I didn’t expect to find a reduced fat sharp cheddar, but lo and behold, there it was. So I figured I’d give it a shot. And on the whole, it’s not bad. I don’t know if I’d want to eat it straight, but for the purposes of the mac and cheese, it worked just fine.

I didn’t feel like firing up the oven, so I took the opportunity to see how the broiler setting on my ancient toaster oven would work. I’d only recently deciphered the cryptic icons on the toaster to determine that there was actually a broil setting, so I hadn’t tested it before. I’m not entirely sure why you’d have to use that instead of just baking the mac and cheese, but whatever. I also don’t own a broiler pan (that I know of), which was part of the appeal of using the toaster oven. I put the mac and cheese in a metal loaf pan, which just fits into the toaster, and worked great. Make sure you keep an eye on the mac and cheese while it’s in the toaster – if you don’t, the cheese may burn a bit. I’m not sure if that has to do with the fact that I was using a reduced fat cheese, or if I put it in the toaster for too long, or if my toaster oven is simply temperamental and inaccurate. Fortunately, there weren’t any major burn spots on mine, just a few browned bits, which were easily scraped off when eaten.

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I served this with a simple grilled pork chop, which was a good choice. I considered mixing either edamame or corn into the mac and cheese, but didn’t on this round. I’ll definitely make this again, so maybe next time. (I’d been considering this originally, when I’d intended to make the mac and cheese as a stand alone dish, rather than as a side dish for the pork chop.) I had the pork chop and mac and cheese with a 2008 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling, which I’ve had at Legal Seafood before, and recently found in Ye Olde Sketchy Liquor Store nearby. I’m biased because I like the riesling anyway, but I thought it went well. I also tried it with a Sutter Home White Merlot, which wasn’t bad either, but I like that wine on its own as well, so my pairing suggestions are fairly simple – amateur at best. But I like them, and since it’s my dinner, that’s what counts.

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Responses

  1. […] favorite wine, the Chateau Ste Michelle 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling I mentioned back in the Bacon Mac and Cheese post. (And yes, I did catch myself before I poured it on the […]

  2. […] favorite wine, the Chateau Ste Michelle 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling I mentioned back in the Bacon Mac and Cheese post. (And yes, I did catch myself before I poured it on the […]


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