Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Grown Up Mac and Cheese

I thought to myself, today, that it's a good thing I belong to Barefoot Bloggers because were it not for the twice monthly challenge I've signed up to be a part of, I might not have blogged much at all this summer.
I've really been "off my feed" lately as the farmers would say. I've been so tired, for weeks, and have just had craptastic summer. I won't bore anyone with details, because who among us hasn't been worn to the bone at some point, with the stress of career, relationships, domestic projects, art projects, family pressures, dying relatives, blog responsibilities, and such?

Instead of sexual fantasies, I write my resume in my head daily, and pretend to give my boss notice of my imminent departure. It's much more satisfying. I can't say more than that or I'd be typing all night and you'd be saying "What a whiner."

In addition to just being too stressed to cook and bake and snap photos, I've been on a "Use It Up" kick for a few months, to try and curb my addiction to bringing home tasty groceries too frequently. Seriously, my pantry would make a genuinely hungry person on a limited income weep with joy. That's embarrassing to me.

You'd think, with all the stress going on and the kick of clearing out my pantry, that I would have loads of dishes to photograph and upload. Not so. The battery in my camera wasn't charged, and for about 3-4 weeks, I was too tired to find it and plug it in.

So ... this month's Barefoot Blogger recipes are upon us, and Heather Randomosity and the Girl chose Ina Garten's "Grown Up Mac and Cheese" which sounded both really comforting, and, really sophisticated. I had most of the necessary ingredients, and it didn't seem like a chore at all. Maybe this was just the kick in the ass I needed: pasta with Gruyere, bleu cheese and bacon in it? That's medicine right there, folks.

Ahhh, but, I had some frozen macaroni and cheese I wanted to use up -- shoot. I don't necessarily want to buy and make the same dish I swore I'd use up out of my freezer this week. I know, I know ... make your own, it's better, etc etc etc. But sometimes a single, working girl needs a bright orange box, a microwave, and a too-long cooking time to assure a blackened crusty top. Doesn't she?

Enter stage right ... Hacking Ina Garten's Mac and Cheese. Not to be confused with Semi Homemade Ina Garten. PLEASE. Please don't compare me to that color-coordinated creature -- I'd never make a Kwanzaa Cake with corn nuts (brilliantly described by one blogger as an edible hate crime). Ever.

Ina's recipe is basically a roux to which she adds three kinds of cheese (cheddar, Gruyere and bleu), pasta, bacon, and then tops with bread crumbs. Well, my frozen entree took care of the cheddar, most of the pasta, and the roux. All I needed to do was build on it with the remaining cheeses, a bit more pasta, and the toppings.

My solution to blend what I already had on hand, with Ina's recipe with unique flavors, resulted in the best tasting macaroni and cheese I've ever had to date. I say "to date" because surely I'll make this recipe again, this time from scratch, when I don't have freezer staples to use up.


1 box of frozen Macaroni and Cheese
1 box of "cheap stuff" Macaroni and Cheese in the blue box
4 oz of Gruyere, shredded
2 oz of Gorgonzola Soft Spreadable Cheese or Dip
1 oz of half and half
2 slices bacon
2 slices prosciutto
Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper
1 handful of breadcrumbs

Soften the frozen mac and cheese until it can be removed from its container and stirred, cold, into a casserole dish. Open a box of cheap-stuff pantry-stable macaroni and cheese, and discard the sauce packet. Boil that pasta in salted water. Stir into the defrosted mac and cheese, to both increase the pasta, and, vary the types of pasta (some a bit soft, some a bit firm).

Shred 4 oz of Gruyere cheese, and stir into the pasta. Scoop out 2 oz (half of the container) of a soft, spreadable Gorgonzola or Bleu Cheese dip (I used Connoisseur brand Gorgonzola Spread, which is very pungent) and add to pasta, stirring to melt the soft cheeses. Stir in a bit of half and half as needed, to remain creamy -- I didn't need much at all. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg (I skimp on a lot, but not on spices).

Meanwhile, in a pan, brown 2 slices of bacon, and 2 slices of prosciutto until crisp. When cool enough to handle, snip into small pieces, adding most to the pasta, and reserving some for garnish.

Meanwhile, in a bullet blender cup, add approximately 1 handful or cup of croutons, toasted bread or crumbs, with basil or other herbs, to make bread crumbs. I happened to have seasoned cornbread stuffing, and I added fresh basil and and pulsed that into breadcrumbs. I wouldn't do that again because it was too "fake tasting." Plain breadcrumbs would have sufficed.

When the pasta, bacon and prosciutto and cheeses are thoroughly stirred and blended, top with the crumbs, and bake for 40 minutes until bubbling. Top with reserved bacon and serve.

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!


  1. Good for you - I think there are times in life when just have to work with what you have. Sounds like you made a great dinner!

  2. I love your hack! & there is nothing that will make you feel better than mac & cheese & bacon!

  3. Awww, I'm sorry you're under such stress. And you know what? You just keep it real when you tell the truth like this. You used a box of Mac and Cheese and embellished it -- that's just fine and as you said, it was GREAT, and that's what matters. All of these chefs say, all the time "Use what you have" and you did. I say kudos to you. It looks and sounds great and honestly, I wish I'd done the same. I made this awhile back and did it from scratch. Too bleu-cheesey and too runny. I should have hacked a brand I already know and love, and carried the concept forward like this. I think I'll try it that way.

  4. Amy

    Hi girl! In my defense, it wasn't all "boxed." It was a frozen entree of Stouffer's which is pretty good, but "soft" -- te pasta is never firm. That's why I also threw in a box cheapo kind -- I only used the PASTA from the boxed kind -- not the day-glo orange sauce packet. I just needed the extra noodles, to have some firm bite.

  5. Yours looks so good-who'd have thunk you used all those quickie products? It doesn't appear to have suffered a bit.

  6. I want that pink bowl! Oh, to have everything pink would be bliss.

    So, totally not about mac & cheese... I did the same thing, about dreaming about resigning. Well, after working for the largest assclown in the universe for 9 months... I walked into his office and said, "Doug. I can't do this anymore." He said, "What?" I said, "You. F*** off. I'm out." I've never felt better.

    Sorry if that's a bit too much for mac & cheese talk. Smile!


  7. I am so with you being stressed out and trying to do it all. Could you come and clean out my pantry please! Your mac and cheese looks so good!

  8. Way to make it your own! I love it when people put there own spins on things! Great job! Looks delicious!