Dear sweet sweet mac n’ cheese how I love you so. Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite foods and guilty pleasures. I have loved it since my mom use to make it for me with cheese whiz and celery way back in the day. Over the years my mac n’ cheese recipe has been constantly evolving, and it has become a bit more gourmet…but it still has the celery in it in honor of my mom. I have been playing around with this recipe for years, but I finally perfected it when we lived in Seattle many moons ago.
Lucky for me, I had friends that also loved mac and cheese, and they had the brilliant idea to have a mac and cheese cook-off. I mean come on! A cook-off filled with vino, a sea of mac and cheese and good friends, how could you go wrong!? Each year we lived in Seattle the competition got more and more stiff, and I always came just shy of placing in the top three. The last year that we lived there, I was gearing up for our mac n’ cheese get together, and I was thinking about all of the other contenders that won the contest the years before. The one thing that they had in their mac and cheese that I did not was BACON! How can a vegetarian compete with Bacon!? I brainstormed for days and finally had the brilliant idea to make a veggie mac that made people think there was bacon in it without the bacon. How in the heck did I do this you ask? The secret is in the cheese. I sprinkle smoked gouda over the top of my mac and cheese before I bake it, and it adds a lovely bacony/smoky flavor that will fool some of the biggest bacon/meat lovers. This secret ingredient was the key to my success and I dominated the competition that year…Winning!
My prize was a trophy and bragging rights for a year…I will take it! If the whole bacon thing weirds you out, just omit the smoked gouda from the top of this dish, and I promise you that this recipe will still knock your socks off…just promise me that before you knock the smoked gouda you will at least try it.:)
As a general rule on this blog, I try to post recipes that are somewhat healthy and simple to make. However, there is just something so magical about mac and cheese that I didn’t want to cut too many corners, because then what is the point really!? I can’t use fake cheese, don’t make me, I just can’t. I have tried time and time again to like it, and honestly I think it melts weird and tastes like rubber. I would much rather go without, but then it would just be macaroni and veggies…not so fun! To make me feel a little better about eating the whole casserole dish, I did an experiment and cut out all of the gluten and I loaded it with some of my favorite veggies. To my surprise, the gluten free elements in this dish held their own, and I will be making it this way from here on out. However, if you want to go full throttle, you can use regular pasta, flour and panko and it will taste just as amazing. So this is basically like a choose your own adventure mac and cheese recipe, and I hope you enjoy the adventure just as much as I do!
- 2.5 TBS Ghee or Butter
- 3 TBS Gluten Free Baking Flour or Regular Flour
- 2 C Almond Milk or Whole Milk
- 4 C Shredded Cheese (I use 1 C Sharp Cheddar, 2 C Pepper Jack, 1/2 C Smoked Gouda, 1/2 C White American)
- 1/2 Tsp. Chipotle Chili Powder
- 1/2 Tsp. Granulated Garlic
- 8 oz. Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta Elbows Gluten Free (1 box) or Regular Pasta
- 1 C Smoked Gouda for topping, optional secret ingredient
- 1 C Gluten Free Panko Crumbs or Regular Panko Bread Crumbs
- 1/2 Tsp. Chipotle Chili Powder
- 5 C Veggies (I used 1 diced cup of each…celery, white onion, broccoli, and 2 cup kale)
- 1 Jalapeno, diced with most of the seeds removed (optional)
- Pepper, to taste
To Prepare Veggies
- Melt 1 tsp. of Ghee in a saucepan.
- Add the veggies, jalapeno (if you are using one) and a pinch of pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Just enough to take the edge off, you still want them to be a bit crispy. Set aside.
*Note – Celery might sound weird as one of my veggies of choice, but it adds an awesome crunch and texture contrast to the mac and cheese. If you hate celery, add at least one other veggie to the veggie mix that has an equal crispness to celery.
To Prepare Pasta
- Cook pasta 2 minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) If you are using the gluten free pasta only cook it for 4-5 minutes
- Rinse pasta in cold water, drain well and set aside.
To Prepare Sauce
- Melt 2 TBS ghee or butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Slowly add milk, whisking constantly.
- Cook until sauce thickens, about 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat. Add cheeses, chili powder and granulated garlic. Stir until cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
To Prepare Mac N’ Cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Butter or oil an 8-inch baking dish.
3. Add pasta, and veggies to the finished cheese sauce; mix carefully but thoroughly.
4. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish.
5. Sprinkle top with smoked gouda, panko and then the chili powder.
6. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes or until bubbling. If the panko is not browned when you take it out of the oven, set it under the broiler on high for 3-4 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because it can go from perfect to burned in 2.5 seconds.
This is where your patience comes into play. Let the mac and cheese hang out for about 5 minutes before serving. This will prevent the liquid gold aka cheese sauce from scorching every inch of your mouth as you are shoveling it in.
Happy Mac n’ Cheesing!