Baked Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

Pasta:

1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked “al dente” and drained

Cheese Sauce:

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup whole milk

1 (8 oz.) brick cream cheese, diced into small cubes

2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese*

Topping:

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

4 tbsp. melted unsalted butter

Directions:

Cook the macaroni according to package directions, but don’t overcook, as it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray an ovenproof casserole dish with oil and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large nonstick pan over medium heat; do not let the butter get too brown. Add the flour and salt to the melted butter, and whisk with a wire whisk to make a blonde or pale brown roux.

SLOWLY whisk in the milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Add the cream cheese cubes, a few at a time, stirring with a spoon after each addition until you have a smooth velvety mixture. Fold in the cheese, and stir until melted and the cheese sauce is smooth.

Add in the drained pasta, and stir until it’s mixed thoroughly.

Transfer the mac & cheese to the prepared baking dish.

For the topping, in a small bowl, stir the breadcrumbs and the melted butter together until moist, but not soggy. Top the mac & cheese with the moist breadcrumbs, and bake in preheated oven about 15 minutes, or until it’s golden on top and bubbly around the edges.

*Feel free to mix and match various types of cheese (but I’d still use at least 1 cup cheddar). I sometimes will mix a cup of sharp cheddar and a cup of Mexican blend, or pepper jack.

**This recipe can be easily multiplied for bigger events; I quadrupled it for Ben’s wedding and for Vic’s couple’s shower.

Ranch Cauliflower

1 lg. Cauliflower, cut or broken into florets

1/3 cup olive oil, divided by half

1 small (0.4 oz.) packet dry Ranch dressing

Ground black pepper to taste

Rinse the cauliflower florets, drain and pat dry with paper towels. Toss florets with half the olive oil, and heat the other half of the oil in a large non-stick skillet. When oil is hot, carefully add the cauliflower and sauté over medium-high heat, turning ever minute or so, until florets are roasted a golden brown, but are still crispy; about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle on the Ranch dressing. Toss to coat thoroughly; add black pepper, and toss lightly. Serve immediately.