Saturday, December 10, 2011

Smoky Bacon and Beer, Gouda and Cheddar Mac and cheese

Humble, basic, good old-fashioned macaroni and cheese - the one your mom - or maybe your grandmom - dutifully served up once a week when you were a kid has gotten all gussied up lately.  Have you noticed?  Now I'm not talking about the blue box variety, I'm talking about the made from scratch, hand-grated cheese of your choice (but pleeeeease don't tell me you make it with Velveeta), baked in the oven until the top gets those crusty browned yummy bits on the top kind.  The REAL mac and cheese that dreams are made of!

All of a sudden it's on virtually EVERY restaurant menu everywhere!  And not just with cheese...oh, yeah, there's cheese in it - it wouldn't be mac and CHEESE without the cheese part now, would it?  It's the other accoutrements that define this formerly modest dish that suddenly turned gourmet:  lobster, shrimp or crab mac and cheese, bacon mac and cheese, chorizo mac and cheese, 3-cheese or 4-cheese or even 5-cheese mac and cheese...then there are the veggie additions like poblanos, jalapenos, cilantro, asparagus, broccoli or spinach.  Truffles even! The list of possibilities is staggering!  The combinations endless!

And, sadly, when dining out I have to pass every single one of them by - I get teary-eyed knowing I can't indulge.  Yes, that old gluten devil keeps me from a lot of gustatory enjoyment.  But not now.  I'm fighting back!  I'm standing my ground, standing up and exercising my right to enjoy those honest-to-God, new-fangled versions of my childhood (and pre-celiac diagnosis) favorite....yes, I'm talking about GOURMET MAC AND CHEESE!  Only made at home. In my very own kitchen.   And I'm fine with that.  More than fine, actually because I can take the best of what's out there on the menus and create the mac and cheese of my very own dreams!

I got busy in the kitchen with some good, smoky gouda and cheddar cheeses, hmmmm, what would go with that?  BACON!  Smoky gouda and bacon mac and cheese.  Ehhh...still needs more to bring it up to those restaurant offerings...what to do, what to do....BEER! The final creation bubbling away in my oven became, wait for it.....Bacon and Beer Smoked Gouda and Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese! Take THAT all you snazzy restaurants with your high-priced gloriously tempting, inaccessible (to me...sniff) fancy-schmancy pasta dishes!  I did it, dammit!  

And so, dear readers, here is the recipe so you can do it yourself, too.  There's no difference in the recipe between the gluten-free version and a regular version...I just used GF flour in place of the regular all-purpose flour you would normally use and gluten-free beer in place of the regular beer you would normally use.  Use the mac of your choice - elbow, ziti, will all turn out wonderfully.  (Of course, I made this gluten-free - yep, with gluten-free beer, gf flour and gf macaroni.  And there is NO difference whatsoever!)

Smoky Bacon and Beer Gouda and Cheddar Mac and Cheese

  • 5 slices thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon, cooked crisp and broken into nice sized pieces
  • 4 T. butter
  • 2 T. (make them heaping) flour (GF flour to make this GF)
  • 1 t. salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 t. Coleman's dry mustard - or any other dry mustard
  • 1 can or bottle of your favorite beer (gluten-free for GF version)
  • 1 C. half and half
  • 1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded, plus extra for the top
  • 1/2 lb. smoked gouda cheese, shredded
  •  1 lb. elbow macaroni (gluten-free to make this GF)

Melt butter in 1 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Combine the flour, salt, pepper and dry mustard and then gradually whisk  the mixture into the liquids, stirring until smooth.  Continue stirring over low heat about another minute to cook out the raw flour taste.  
Continually whisking, add the beer and the half and half  and stir until smooth and thickened.  Over very low heat, now add the cheeses a handful at a time and stirring until smooth until all the cheese is incorporated and the sauce is silken.
In the meantime, cook the pasta in heavily salted water (Mario Batali says the water should be as salty as the sea!).  Remove the pasta from the water while it is still al dente - that way the pasta soaks up some of the sauce...yummy!  (Also, it isn't a mushy mess - you want firm pasta!)  Drain the pasta well and then.

Pour the sauce over the pasta, add the bacon, mix well, pour into a large, buttered casserole dish and cover the top with a layer of shredded cheddar.   

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until it is browned and bubbly. 

NOTE:  I use nothing but the best, top quality gluten-free ingredients.  If you don't want to be disappointed in your version, use the very best yourself.  (This goes for the regular version, too!)

GF pasta can fall apart easily if you don't use a really good brand.  I use BiAglut pastas.  They're a Heinz product that is imported from Italy - IT IS EXPENSIVE!  And worth every penny.  It stays firm, it has substance that is identical in every way to normal pasta in taste and texture.  

For GF flour, I use either Jule's or Tom Sawyer.  Both brands are used just like wheat all-purpose flour - measure for measure.  

And I use Redbridge GF beer which is made by Anheuser-Busch. 

Soergel's, in the Wexford area north of Pittsburgh, is where I buy my gluten-free products.  If you're around Pittsburgh and you haven't tried Soergel's Naturally, make the trip.  You'll be glad you did.  And you'll become a regular there, too.  And they're so knowledgeable  and friendly!

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