Friday

Smokey Mac & Cheese Bar - Fresh Living

We are in the end days of winter and there is nothing that whispers comfort to the soul other than Mac & Cheese, especially Smokey Mac & Cheese.  At our last family party we had what we called a Smokey Mac & Cheese Bar.  It was the perfect winter dinner with the best creamy main dish and tons of sides.


Depending on the sides you choose you can a different tasty bowl of creaminess each time you come to the bar.  If this post I will give my recipe for the best Mac & Cheese in the world...Smokey Mac & Cheese.  The secret ingredient to this  special mac is Smoked Paprika and Caramelized Onions, oh and lots of cheese!


Smokey Mac & Cheese

1/2 Cup of Butter
1/2 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion
1 Teaspoon of Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Cup Flour
4 cups Half and Half
8 cups of assorted shredded cheese
 (Sharp Cheddar, Gouda, Monterrey Jack, Swiss, & Parmesan)
2 lbs. of uncooked macaroni noodles



1.  In a warm thick bottomed pan, melt the butter.  Add the chopped yellow onion and begin cooking until translucent.  Add Smoked Paprika and Ground Nutmeg.  Let simmer a few minutes to infuse the spice into the butter.

Boil water to cook macaroni to firm but coked.  Because you will be baking this pasta dish, you want to make sure the noodles are almost under cooked.  If they are over cooked they will turn to mush with the cheese sauce and added heat.

2.  Sprinkle Flour into the mixture and continue cooking whisking it around until it forms a thick pudding or pasty consistency.  This is called a rue.  Basically a thick flour paste that thickens broth or milk into gravy or sauce.


3.  Slowly pour the Half and Half into the rue and whisk to remove any lumps.  It should be a smooth gravy consistency.  If the sauce is too thick add a little more milk.

4.  Add half of the grated cheese to the milk mixture and whisk slowly until it melts and is smooth.  Salt & Pepper to taste.


5.  Drain the cooked macaroni and place  a layer into a casserole dish or dutch oven pan that is over safe.  Pour some of the sauce over the layer and mix with a spoon.  Sprinkle with a layer of grated cheese mix.  Continue adding layers of the macaroni, sauce and grated cheese until the pan is full.  Pour remaining sauce over the top of the dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.  


6.  Sprinkle Panko Bread Crumbs over the top.  Cover with tin foil  and bake at 350 degrees for a half hour until everything is bubbly and lightly browned on the edges.  If you want to make this ahead of time, you can freeze the mac & cheese and cook at a later time or keep in the refrigerator for a few days ahead of the day of cooking.

The wonderful flavor of this Smokey Mac & Cheese comes from slowly sauteing the onions and spices with the butter.  The butter is the base of this dish, so cooking the onion into it with those spices...makes a flavorful mac & cheese that is anything but boring! 

Though the Smokey Mac & Cheese is good on its own, there are a ton of mix-ins that you can add to the Mac & Cheese Bar to use as add ins to spice it up even more!

Here are just a few...

Italian Ham
BBQ Kielbasa
Shredded Crab
Lime Chicken
Crumbled Bacon
Sauteed Kale
Roasted Vegetable
Marinated Peppers
Capers
Marinated Olives & Mushrooms
French Fried Onions
Jalapenos

Alfredo Sauce
Marinara Sauce
Cheddar Sauce

Honestly, you can add anything you love to this bar to spice it up.  One of my favorite is the Sauteed Kale.  I cook mine in a mixture of olive oil and butter with a sprinkle of sea salt.  It is so incredibly delicious on the Smokey Mac & Cheese.  It holds its texture and adds a fabulous flavor to the cheese and pasta.

I hope you try this recipe and fall in love with this buffet bar idea.  We love it!  It's simple and easy to make ahead and each person can do something different to make it their own.  If you would like to watch the segment on KUTV Fresh Living by clicking on the link.  Enjoy!

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