……………………………………………………. Baking our mark

Mac and Cheese Tasting Party for 12 February 27, 2011

First, let me say that a dinner party for 12 is not an easy task – and I couldn’t have been prepared (or sane) without the boyfriend’s help. Don’t try a multi-course party unless you have someone else there to help you out. And, it was also made better because my friends are good sports: no one questioned my weird desire to have a mac & cheese tasting party, and everyone–even friends and significant others I just met–participated in ranking the dishes at the end of the night, even though it was corny.

Nacho mac in progress

So, for my (mostly) vegetarian dinner party, we had Pumpkin Gruyere Mac, Nacho Cheddar Mac, and Three Cheese Mac. See below the break for recipes and group decision on which mac was the best!

One of the tasting dishes (!!!) - best feedback I got.

We started with Chicken Brochettes with Garbanzo Puree, and had green salad, pickles, and some delicious nuts between courses as palate cleansers. We ended with a delightfully refreshing lemon-lime sorbet made by my friend.

Lots of prep - you need lots of fridge space for this one

I started prepping for this party the night before: I grated all the cheese and put it into ziplocs to keep it fresh (grating a cheese with a food processor is a time saving revelation!), cook the noodles for each dish and stored those in ziplocs, and measured and prepped as much as possible ahead of time. Mac and cheese that will be baked can be made a bit ahead of time, then just baked a little longer when it comes out of the fridge. Be sure to bake with tinfoil on top until the last 5 – 10 minutes so the topping doesn’t burn. (As one of my friends noted, this sort of thing requires a lot of planning, and if you don’t get it right, it’s going to just be pretty bad for everyone.)

Final Ratings

All three of these macs are pretty good, in my book, each for a different reason. The pumpkin mac was just very unique – it had a full flavor without having very much fat, but it is a bit odd and should warrant some explanation before being dished out. The nacho mac is also a novelty – I love all the cilantro in it, but not everyone did; we did decide that tortilla chips on top make for great texture. And the three cheese mac was an incredibly creamy take on a classic; homemade breadcrumbs on top are key here…but it’s not terribly exciting, especially compared to the other two.

And this group’s winner is…Nacho mac and cheese!

Three Cheese: 1
Pumpkin: 3
Nacho: 7

Fascinatingly, everyone who liked pumpkin or nacho best, liked three cheese second best. Perhaps there’s just a flavor divide…

And now, the recipes:

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

I followed the recipe M used, and also used almond milk for a good nutty taste. I also opted for gruyere instead of cheddar.

Nacho Mac and Cheese from the B.A. recipe

All that's left

2 cups small elbow macaroni
1/2 cup bottled thick and chunky salsa verde (medium heat)
1 cup (packed) fresh cilantro leaves
3 cups (packed) coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (12 ounces), divided
4 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon (scant) ground cloves [I just used a whole clove, then removed it before mixing in the cheese]
1 cup large corn chips

Preheat oven to 425. Cook macaroni in large saucepan of boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Meanwhile, blend salsa and cilantro in processor.

Toss 2 cups cheese and flour in medium bowl to coat.

Bring milk, cream, and cloves to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cheese mixture. Whisk until sauce is smooth, about 1 minute. Mix in macaroni; season with pepper.

Spread half of macaroni mixture in 11 x 7-inch baking dish. Spread half of salsa mixture over, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese. Top with remaining macaroni mixture and salsa mixture. Sprinkle chips over. Top with 1/2 cup cheese. Bake until heated through, about 10 minutes. [If you refrigerated, bake for 8 min. covered; then, bake uncovered for about 5 more minutes, until cheese is a bit toasted.]

Three Cheese Mac from the Everyday Food recipe

Mac before the breadcrumbs - lots of pepper to add flavor

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound medium pasta shells
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
4 cups whole milk
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
4 ounces Havarti cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
4 ounces Muenster cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce [Watch out – this is NOT a vegetarian ingredient…but if you like it, add a bit more than 1 tsp.]
6 slices white bread

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Butter a shallow 4-quart baking dish (oval or 9-by-13-inch rectangle); set aside.

Generously salt boiling water; add pasta. Cook, according to package instructions, until 2 minutes short of al dente. Drain pasta, and return to pot.

While pasta is cooking, melt 4 Tbs. butter in a large saucepan over medium. Add flour and mustard powder to remaining butter in saucepan. Cook, whisking, 1 minute (do not let flour darken). Whisk in milk. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until sauce is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat. Gradually whisk in cheeses; add Worcestershire sauce, and season generously with salt and pepper. Add sauce to pasta, and toss to combine; transfer to prepared baking dish.

Place bread in food processor; pulse until very coarse crumbs form (you should have about 3 cups). Add 2 Tbs. melted butter, and pulse just to moisten. Scatter crumbs over pasta in baking dish. (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.)

Bake until topping is golden and sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. (If refrigerated, bake for 30 to 35 minutes.) Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Since some of the attendees read this blog, I will not be posting cost or calorie information for these recipes. Let’s just say that feeding 12 people and using nicer cheese is pricey, and whole milk, heavy cream, and cheese don’t make for terribly healthy meals.

And, the real star of the evening…


7 Responses to “Mac and Cheese Tasting Party for 12”

  1. ssrider Says:

    How do I get an invitation to your parties. Very creative ideas on how to make the ordinary extraordinary. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  2. vespachick Says:

    Oh, the star of the dinner is quite handsome. You were the star in all reality as you did the work of making three different dishes plus some great appetizers.
    Nacho Mac and Cheese sounds great. I’ll have to try this one.

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