With bonus Air Fried Mac
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.
Deep Fried Mac
Inspired by The Cheesecake Factory
- A batch of mac & cheese (see notes)
- 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)
- 1-2 eggs
- 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!
Posted February 27, 2021