I turned 52 years old today and I have made 52 macs in the past 52 weeks!
I have had this particular post planned since before I even launched the blog. When I was working out the concept, I found the post that inspired this one and have had it saved for more than a year. I can’t believe it’s been a year!
I don’t know yet where I’m going with the blog over the next 52 weeks, but I’ve enjoyed the process and expect I will continue cooking & posting, but probably not a single type of thing and I plan to relax the schedule some. I found that the self-imposed expectation to post every week created some stress when life got in the way.
So happy birthday to me and happy birthday to Getting My Mac On!
6 slices of white bread, crusts trimmed; cut into small cubes
12 tablespoons of butter, divided (see notes)
5 ½ cups of milk (see notes)
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (see notes)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
18 ounces extra sharp white cheddar, shredded
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
16 ounces elbow macaroni
4 more tablespoons butter
4 more tablespoons flour
8 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese
Melt 4-6 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then pour over bread cubes and stir to coat (see notes).
Heat the milk over medium heat, but do not bring to a boil.
Melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then add ½ cup flour and whisk for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the warm milk and whisk frequently until it thickens slightly.
Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg, salt, and cayenne pepper.
Add both cheeses and stir until melted, set aside.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, then cook the pasta for 8 minutes; drain and rinse with cold water, then combine with the cheese sauce.
Spray 3 graduated size springform pans with non-stick spray, then scoop 2 cups into the small pan, 3 cups into the medium pan, and 4 scoops into the large pan. If any remains divide it equally among the pans.
Make a ring of bread cubes around the outside edges of the two larger pans, and cover the top of the smallest pan. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes.
Melt an additional 4 tablespoons of butter, then stir in 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk to form a roux. Let it cool.
“Frost” the sides of the layers with the roux, then add shredded Colby Jack.
It’s so cute! And it tastes good too.
I wish I had thought to create a graphic representing 5.2 noodles
The Martha Steward recipe said 2 tablespoons of butter for the bread cubes – it was not even close to enough, I just kept adding more.
This seemed like too much milk, the sauce was very soupy. That’s not a bad thing with a baked mac, but it still seemed like too much, the bread cube topping was starting to get to dark before the mac was really baked all the way through.
OBVIOUSLY, the Martha Stewart recipe called for “freshly grated nutmeg.” Yeah, no. I have never claimed to be at Martha Stewart’s level (I’ve been called Betty Crocker before, but I think it was sarcasm) and the stuff in the jar is as far as I’m willing to go for nutmeg.
Mostly I like the community where I live – despite the wind we’ve experience the past week, we have better weather than other parts of the state and I could never handle the rain (or the TRAFFIC) on the west side year-round. But it’s close enough for quick weekend getaways to hit up IKEA or take in a Mariners game, and now that we have Sephora, DSW, and Ulta, we have ALMOST everything I need. If Trader Joe’s and the Cheesecake Factory ever came to town I might not ever have to leave again. (That’s not true, I would still need my fix of Broadway shows, assuming those are ever allowed to start touring again.)
And we still don’t have quite all the chain restaurants that people want. We spent YEARS hearing rumors that Olive Garden was coming and everyone would get so excited. They finally did open a location here, and it is consistently busy, even after a solid decade. (Or maybe two? I can’t remember now when it stopped being a rumor and became a reality.) People in the Tri-Cities love their chain restaurants! (I say this with all the love in the world, I’m no Olive Garden hater.) Personally, I like The Cheesecake Factory more, but maybe that’s because we DON’T have one? I usually stick to the appetizer menu, because their avocado egg rolls are just SO GOOD, and of course, the fried macaroni and cheese is smack in the middle of my personal dream-come-true food. I couldn’t let this year-long experiment end (TOMORROW!!!) without attempting to re-create them.
1/4-1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs and/or Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (in this case, use the stuff in the jar)
A few tablespoons of milk
Oil for frying – I used canola
Optional: marinara sauce for dipping (see notes for super easy recipe)
Whatever kind of mac & cheese you choose to use, whether fresh or leftover, chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
Form the chilled macaroni into golf-ball sized balls and place on a baking sheet. I used a cookie scoop to get the approximate size, but still had to do some forming by hand.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 1-2 hours.
Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese in a shallow container
Beat the egg and milk together and pour into another shallow container
Roll the macaroni balls in the egg mixture, making sure it’s thoroughly coated; then roll in breadcrumbs, again making sure the entire surface is covered.
Heat the oil until shimmering, then gently add the breaded macaroni balls. Depending on how deep the oil is, you may need to turn them once.
Fry to the desired state of golden brown, probably no more than 2-3 minutes. Remove carefully and let cool slightly.
Alternate option: preheat an air fryer to 400. Mine is a behemoth called The Big Boss and I almost never use it – this effort reminded me why, and I think I’m going to sell it or donate it. Place the breaded macaroni balls in the basket, mist with oil, and fry until crisp. Mine took several minutes, I actually don’t know how long the new generations of air fryers take.
Let’s put it this way – I’m not going to be a threat to The Cheesecake Factory anytime soon. These were fine, but it’s a lot of prep, a lot of wait time while they are chilling, and there’s more mess to cleanup when you’re done. And they’re not really something you can prepare ahead – once they’re fried, they’re best when eaten right then. Again, they’re good, but they’re not going to be in frequent rotation.
The air fryer ones were disappointing. They never really crisped up, one of them sort of fell apart in the basket, and obviously they just don’t have that deep-fried goodness. Anyone want a Big Boss oil-less cooker?
There are 50 previous recipes to choose from on this site, as well as hundreds if not thousands on the internet. In my catch-up attempts the past couple of weeks, I have A LOT of mac & cheese on hand, all of it too “specialized” for this, but I also didn’t want to add to the stockpile if I didn’t end up frying all of it. And I have an ambitious finale planned for tomorrow (TOMORROW! Where has a year gone? (rhetorical question)) so I took the easy way out for this and used boxed mac.
The Marcella Hazan 3-ingredient tomato sauce is so easy and so good! In a heavy saucepan, combine a 29 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes (and the juice) with 5 tablespoons of butter and an onion that’s been peeled and cut in half. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, occasionally pressing with a spoon to break up the tomatoes. Remove the onion and enjoy. It can be left chunky, but I prefer to give it a spin with my immersion blender.
The paper plate with a hole in it lets me blend it right in the pan, eliminating the need to pour very hot tomato sauce into the mixing container and also preventing very hot tomato sauce from going EVERYWHERE.
Tune in TOMORROW for the grand finale – #52 of 52 macs in 52 weeks!
I actually got this idea from one of my favorite items in the frozen food aisle! I haven’t bought it in a year – with alllll the mac & cheese I’ve made over the past 51+ weeks, I couldn’t quite bring myself to PAY for a frozen single-serving, but I’ve been missing the taste. When I decided to try a copycat version, I looked up the ingredients online. I was surprised to see that it has more cheddar than Parmesan – I flipped that in my version. The truffle oil and heavy cream make it a little bit richer and more luxurious than some of the more traditional macs. It would make a nice treat for a special meal. (I had originally planned this post for Valentine’s Day but I was at my 12-year-old nephew’s birthday party.)
6 ounces VERY finely shredded Parmesan cheese (see notes)
2 ounces coarsely shredded Parmesan cheese
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1-2 tablespoons truffle oil, divided
Preheat the oven to 350 and coat a baking dish (or two) with non-stick spray.
Combine the breadcrumbs with 1-1/12 tablespoons truffle oil.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat the milk and cream over low heat but do not let it boil. Remove from heat.
Melt the butter over low-medium heat, then stir in the flour and whisk continually for 2-3 minutes.
Slowly add the warmed milk, stirring continually. Continue to cook over low-medium heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5-6 minutes. (It will still be fairly runny.)
Add salt to taste.
Add the cheddar cheese and the finely shredded Parmesan and stir until fully melted.
Drizzle in ½-1 tablespoons of truffle oil and stir.
Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine.
Pour into your prepared baking dish. It looks pretty soupy before it goes in the oven, but you want extra sauce in baked mac so it doesn’t dry out. I even had some sauce left over, which will come in handy when re-heating.
Top with the breadcrumb mixture and/or the remaining (coarsely shredded) Parmesan. I did one pan with breadcrumbs and one pan with cheese. I think it would also be great with both.
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, then switch your broiler to low and broil for another 2-3 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs (or cheese) are golden brown. The breadcrumb pan was ready after a couple of minutes, the cheese topping pan took closer to 5 minutes. (Watch closely though, I’ve learned the hard way my broiler can take things from not quite done to scorched very quickly.)
Soooooo good! The breadcrumb topping only pan is lighter and somehow delicate, while also being very tasty. The pan topped with shredded cheese, has – not surprisingly – a stronger cheese flavor and is also really tasty. This is one of the best ones in quite a while.
I almost always use extra-sharp cheddar, but I wanted a softer note here to let the Parmesan stand out, so I dialed it back a step to just “sharp.” Medium or mild would probably be fine here as well – I find them too bland for most macs, but it’s really just a supporting player here so there’s more flexibility.
Parmesan isn’t a great melting cheese – I’ve learned in my frequent attempts at Alfredo sauce that the more finely shredded it is, the better. I use a super-fine microplane and the cheese is so light it seems like it could float … and it melts much more smoothly. Because it’s so fluffy, it’s more important to go by the weight before it’s grated than by a measurement like “2 cups.”
I seem to be on a roll with recipes that my mom won’t like! She doesn’t like tomatoes IN things, so the two last week didn’t appeal to her, and she REALLY doesn’t like mushrooms, so I know this one is not going to be a hit. Mom – the next couple should be more to your taste!
Growing up, I liked fresh mushrooms – dipped in ranch of course – but I thought cooked mushrooms were disgusting. I’m not sure when or how that changed, but now I looooove sauteed or grilled mushrooms. On a steak, on a burger, straight out of the pan, it’s all good. (Canned cream of mushroom soup remains on the disgusting list.) Here, they join garlic and an onion-flavored cheese in my attempt to create a hearty mac & cheese for these still-chilly winter days.
2 cups shredded “Steakhouse Onion” white cheddar cheese (see notes)
2 ounces cream cheese (see notes)
6-8 ounces fresh white mushrooms, sliced (see notes)
6-7 cloves of garlic, minced (see notes)
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, add pasta, and cook for 9-10 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
In the same pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, add the garlic and mushrooms, and sauté until the mushrooms are soft and reduced in size. This may take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. See notes about measurements and moisture.
Meanwhile, heat the milk on low until warm, but do not let it come to a boil.
Add salt to taste, then stir in the remaining butter. After it has fully melted add the flour and stir to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
Slowly add the warmed milk, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until sauce thickens. This should take 5-6 minutes, but even after 10 minutes, it never really thickened up for me.
Remove pan from heat and add both cheeses and stir until fully melted. Add additional salt to taste as needed.
Add pasta and stir until well-coated.
This ended up being a little disappointing. The sauce was very runny and the flavors were VERY mild. The mushrooms gave off a lot of water while cooking – I think everything got diluted. This is probably a case of too many adaptations to the original, it’s probably great if you stick to that. It wasn’t bad, just pretty bland (and that’s with double the garlic!). When I re-heat the leftovers, I expect I will need to add more cheese, as well as more sautéed mushrooms and/or garlic.
The recipe I adapted called for gruyere and goat cheese. When I was at the grocery store, I thought I already had both. I had neither. But this Steakhouse Onion white cheddar seemed like a good match – maybe just because I like mushrooms ON steak? It needed a stronger companion; it wasn’t enough on its own.
Additionally, I had started with 1 ½ cups of shredded cheese per the recipe, and it was nowhere near enough. I added the rest of the block, making it roughly 2 cups total.
It turned out I actually did have some goat cheese, but it wasn’t the plain flavor, and I didn’t think goat cheese with honey would be a great fit here.
The recipe called for 16 ounces/4 cups of sliced baby portobello mushrooms, which I don’t know if I like, so I played it safe with white mushrooms. Turns out 16 ounces of sliced white mushrooms is a LOT more than 4 cups, so I only used about half of what I prepped. I still had to add more butter to sauté them in, and they put off so much water the sauce never thickened, and the flavor was diluted.
As always, I used more garlic than the recipe calls for. Start with 4, then add as your taste buds prefer.
There are nine days left in this project, and only two Sundays, and I’m three recipes behind, so I’m getting desperate creative. BLTs are my favorite sandwich – OK, that’s a lie, I don’t like lettuce … bacon & tomato sandwiches are my favorite – and since I had some leftover roasted tomatoes from the previous recipe (not to mention some leftover mac & cheese) plus an unopened package of bacon in the fridge, it was perfect timing. I don’t typically put cheese on my BLTs, but it’s certainly not an unappealing flavor combination!
Leftover mac & cheese (see notes)
Roasted tomatoes (see the Roasted Veggie Mac post from a couple of days ago), roughly chopped
However much bacon you have on hand (see notes)
1-2 handfuls of raw spinach leaves, roughly chopped
Make or reheat mac & cheese
Cook the bacon to your desired level of crispness. I have 2 methods that I prefer, depending on the amount of bacon and amount of time that I have.
Line a baking sheet with foil, then lay the bacon strips out on a wire cooking rack. Place the rack on the baking sheet and cook in the oven at 400 for 15-18 minutes. Remove and let cool, then crumble into small pieces. (My Pampered Chef salad chopper works great for this.)
Chop raw bacon into small pieces and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Scoop the bacon bits onto a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool. (A cool trick I learned somewhere is to roll individual bacon slices loosely and freeze, then you can take out a few pieces here or there rather than having to thaw the whole pack at once. Bacon rollups that are partially thawed are also easier to chop evenly.)
Combine a scoop of mac & cheese with 2-3 tablespoons each of the tomatoes, spinach, and bacon.
I’m completely biased for bacon and tomato together, and this did not disappoint! The spinach is fine – it doesn’t really add or detract either way, so just like I don’t use lettuce on the sandwich version, consider it optional.
As I mentioned recently, you may not always have leftover mac & cheese on hand the way I seem to. I used some leftover Sour Cream & Onion Mac from a week or so ago; but the Classic Mac recipe from Week 1 would be terrific here.
One of my favorite humor writers, Jill Connor Browne (the Sweet Potato Queens Book of Love), says that a serving of bacon is however much is in front of you. I do not disagree with this sentiment.