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Five ideas for making macaroni and cheese

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What hasn't lovingly been said about macaroni and cheese? I grew up eating the blue box of cheesy goodness, and now as an adult, I've been known to down a box while watching reruns of crime dramas. My favorite local macaroni and cheese is on the menu at Urban Brew & BBQ in St. Petersburg. I'd never try to re-create that magic. However, there is something about homemade, not-from-a-box mac. When you Google "macaroni and cheese recipe," you're bombarded with many varieties of the carb-and-dairy delight. I've collected five different takes on the dish, so pick a recipe, settle in for a good TV binge-watch, and devour a plate of this classic comfort food.

Brittany Volk, Times staff writer

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Pinterest tells me this is the most requested recipe on foodnetwork.com. People need their macaroni and cheese, and chef Alton Brown is here to help. To make, preheat an oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook ½ pound elbow macaroni to al dente according to package instructions; drain. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 3 tablespoons flour and 1 tablespoon powdered mustard and keep it moving for about 5 minutes. Make sure it's free of lumps. Stir in 3 cups milk, ½ cup finely diced yellow onion, 1 bay leaf and ½ teaspoon paprika. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove the bay leaf. Temper in 1 large egg. Stir in 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni pasta into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with more cheddar. Now, make the topping. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a saute pan and toss in 1 cup panko bread crumbs. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8. foodnetwork.com

Macaroni and Cheese Bites

These are always in my shopping cart when I go through the Trader Joe's freezer aisle. But Martha Stewart tells me it's easy to make macaroni and cheese bites at home, and it actually is: Make macaroni and cheese, dip into breading and pan-fry. To start, make your favorite classic macaroni and cheese dish (you can use the one above). Next, line a baking dish with parchment and brush parchment lightly with oil. Spread macaroni mixture evenly in dish. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours. When it's ready, flip over the baking dish onto a cutting board and remove parchment. Cut cold macaroni and cheese into 1-inch squares with a sharp knife. To make the breading, whisk 4 large eggs in a shallow dish. In another shallow dish, combine 2 cups panko bread crumbs and ¾ teaspoons cayenne, and season with salt. Dip macaroni squares, a few at a time, in eggs, allowing excess to drip off into dish, then roll in panko mixture to coat completely. Transfer to a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium until shimmering. Working in batches, add coated squares in a single layer. (Do not crowd the pan.) Cook, turning occasionally, until all sides are crisp and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes total. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined rack to drain and cool slightly. Wipe skillet clean. Repeat process with more oil and remaining squares. Serve warm. Serves about 10. marthastewart.com

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

There's not really a guilt-free macaroni and cheese out there, but this recipe sure tries to fill that void. It's from first lady Michelle Obama, and she says her girls, Sasha and Malia, love this stuff. To make, bring salted water to a boil in a large pot, and cook 1 pound whole wheat penne until al dente according to package directions; drain. In the meantime, cut half a head of cauliflower into florets, then simmer in a saucepan of well-salted water until soft. Transfer to a blender to puree. Transfer the pasta to a medium-size pan and pour the cauliflower puree in. Stir in 1 cup milk (2 percent or skim), 1 pound shredded cheddar cheese and ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Chicago Tribune

One-Pot Spinach and Feta Macaroni and Cheese

This recipe goes along with Times food editor Michelle Stark's collection of one-pot pasta ideas from last year. I like this take on mac and cheese because it involves more ingredients, like new kinds of cheese. And spinach, so it's healthy, right? Start by heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 diced yellow onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Stir in 2 cloves of minced garlic and continue to cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add 2 diced fresh tomatoes, 1 bag (8 to 10 ounces) fresh baby spinach, ½ cup crumbled feta cheese, ½ cup cubed white cheddar cheese, ¼ cup part skim shredded mozzarella cheese, 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni, 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk and ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower heat to medium-low, cover with lid and continue to cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until pasta is cooked. Stir frequently, about every 3 minutes, to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and stir. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4. diethood.com

Garlic, Bacon and Beer Macaroni and Cheese

Michelle Obama, look away. It's time to get out the fat pants, you guys — this is the guiltiest of guilty macaroni and cheeses. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook 6 strips bacon according to package directions, then set aside to cool. In a medium saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour over medium heat, whisking until bubbly. Cook 2 minutes. Add 2 large minced garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, and cook an additional minute. Slowly whisk in 2 cups milk and ¾ cups stout beer (such as Guinness). Heat, stirring constantly, a couple of minutes until quite warm but not boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low, add 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese and ½ cup Wispride- or Kaukauna-brand sharp cheddar cheese spread, salt and pepper, and cook, whisking, until smooth. Remove from the heat. Stir in half the bacon, crumbling as you add it. Next, cook 8 ounces elbow macaroni according to package directions in salted water, until al dente. Drain and add to the cheese sauce. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish. Time to make the bacon topping: In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add ½ cup panko bread crumbs, ½ teaspoon fresh thyme and remaining bacon. Sprinkle the topping over the macaroni. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbly. Serve garnished with fresh thyme and a pinch of barbecue seasoning. Makes 6 to 8 servings. ericasrecipes.com

Five ideas for making macaroni and cheese 05/09/16 [Last modified: Monday, May 9, 2016 1:19pm]
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