{Crowd Pleasing} Mac & Cheese Bar

December 21, 2016

Having a houseful for Christmas or New Years?

Want to serve something decadent?

Want to serve something in one pot? Enter this Mac & Cheese Bar. 

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This is the perfect crowd friendly meal for a festive occasion – I made this last year for my families Christmas Eve party and it was so fun to watch our relatives grab piles of lobster in the middle of winter (something they would never do) and my kids top theirs with bacon. They were also my very favorite leftovers for sure.

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The idea hit me because chefs are always offering AMAZING mac & cheese dishes at restaurants, and I often can’t decide which ingredient I would want the most.

Mac & Cheese with Lobster? Mac & Cheese with Bacon? Mac & Cheese with Truffles?

Why not share the love and have toppings with all of these goodies?  I invited a few friends over last weekend to share this and fell in love with it all over again. It is SO good and SO easy (my favorite combo).

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Start your favorite Mac and Cheese recipe – mine is Martha Stewart’s Perfect Macaroni and Cheese recipe below (I always double it for leftovers in case someone is really hungry.) She calls for baking it with bread crumbs on top, but since I want people to stir in all their goodies, I reserved the breadcrumb topping and sautéed that with some butter and thyme to make my first topping: breadcrumbs. I thought this would be a little lackluster but oh how wrong I was. It was the perfect texture to complement everything else on the plate.

Then I bought frozen lobster, thawing it a few hours before serving. Then crumbled some bacon.

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I added a side salad and we all ate like kings. This is every bit comfort food and luxury combined. The next day, I found a jar of black truffles and tried some on top. SO decadent. You only need a little. I found my jar at Homegoods, but you can order it here.

Note: If you want to keep the mac & cheese warm throughout the party you can use a crock pot! I pulled my Dutch Oven out right before dinner and it was kept warm with the lid.

Topping Ideas:

// Bread Crumbs with Thyme: sauté reserved bread crumbs in butter, adding fresh or dried thyme.

// Lobster: buy frozen and thaw in fridge over night or in warm water 2-3 hour before serving.

// Crumbled Bacon: cook as package directs (usually 375 for 12-14 minutes) and cool. Crumble and serve.

// Onions/Shallots: these would be good sautéed or deep fried until they are crispy

// Black Truffle: use a small amount of minced, oil, or shaved.

If you like diced tomatoes or avocados, those would work too. The sky is the limit.

The only thing that could make a plate of this more delicious is to add some sangria (thanks Molly!):

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I hope you find a way to make this ( or gently hint to someone else to make it!). It is so fun and fills up hearts and bellies. My favorite kind of food.

I am going to take the rest of the year off and enjoy my family and go skiing up north. Here is wishing you and your families cheer and peace this Christmas and the Happiest, Healthiest of New Years.

Happy Eating! xoxo, Katie

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Perfect Macaroni and Cheese (from Martha Stewart, find printer version here):

You can easily divide this recipe in half or double it (like I did!). Serves 12
6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces (note: I reserved this as a topping)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.

4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top (or reserve if using for a topping). Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

Topping Ideas:

// Bread Crumbs: sauté reserved bread crumbs in butter, adding fresh or dried thyme.

// Lobster: buy frozen and thaw in fridge over night or in warm water 2-3 hour before serving.

// Crumbled Bacon: cook as package directs (usually 375 for 12-14 minutes) and cool. Crumble and serve.

// Onions/Shallots: these would be good sautéed or deep fried until they are crispy

// Black Truffle:  use a small amount of minced, oil, or shaved.

 

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