June 19, 2012

Bacon & Caramelized Onion Baked Mac and Cheese

Whatever you do, please make this mac and cheese. You won't regret it. In fact, you might just dream about every single bite of it for over a week, like I did. Thank goodness for Book Club or I wouldn't have half the reasons to bake decadent stuff like this. The girls loved it. We had quite the evening of indulgence as we hashed out the good, bad, and just plain ridiculous about the trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Back to this Mac and Cheese. The flavor layers are deep and intense. They build from the bacon frying, then onions caramelizing, and then milk simmering all in the same pan. Add in heaps of Gruyere and sharp Cheddar cheeses and it's heaven on a plate. Orecchiette pasta was the perfect concave shape; each pasta piece acted just like a miniature bowl full of gooey, savory, crisp bacon-y goodness.

And now you know why I decided on this dish for our "better than s*x" Book Club dinner theme. Enough said.

Bacon & Caramelized Onion Mac and Cheese: makes one 9x13 baking dish full
sea salt
1 lb. orecchiette pasta
1 tablespoon oil
3 large slices of thick slab-cut applewood smoked bacon
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 quart 2% milk
1 stick butter, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups shredded gruyere cheese
2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar
6 oz. light cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt to taste
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil. Add the salt. When rapidly boiling, add pasta and cook until almost al-dente (about 2-3 minutes less than the package says). Drain and rinse to stop the cooking.

Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil, then the bacon slabs and cook until the bacon is deep brown and just crisp. Remove to a plate layered with paper towels. Add the shallots to the pan with the bacon grease. Stir and cover. Cook until deep brown, stirring occasionally, about 5-10 minutes.  Meanwhile crumble or slice the bacon into 1/2" hunks.

Remove the caramelized shallots from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat to low. Pour the milk into the frying pan and allow to slowly heat through (do not boil). In a separate, large pot melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour. Whisk over low heat for 3-4 minutes to cook out the flour flavor, then add the warm milk and cook until thickened and smooth, about 10 minutes more. Turn off the heat. Add the gruyere, cheddar, baconn, shallots, 1 Tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir until well mixed. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Pour into a 9x13 baking pan. In a small bowl, melt the remaining butter in the microwave and stir together with the panko breadcrumbs. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni and cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.

June 7, 2012

Best Pizza Dough

I need to share this recipe for the BEST pizza dough you will ever eat or make. I say that with a lot of confidence because I made it this week, and I swear I'm still drooling thinking about it.  It took one bite to taste the fact that this dough elevated my pizza to a whole new level, and made my pie surpass the pizzas I've eaten at some of the best pizzerias. 

I knew dough was important to pizza, but always focused more on toppings to bring the real delicious factor. That thinking has changed. This dough makes the toppings taste even better because it equals what's on top in flavor and freshness. 

You won't eat fresher, lighter, fluffier dough. I know it's easiest to purchase store bought pizza dough, but please, just try this recipe this weekend when you have a couple of hours. The only regret you'll  have will be the inevitable overeating!

Best Pizza Dough: makes enough for 2 large pies
1 package instant (quick rise) yeast
1 cup water, warmed to about 110 degrees
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups white flour
optional: 1 tablespoon dried basil

Pour 1/4 cup water into the work bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook (or food processor). Add yeast and stir, allowing to combine completely. Add the honey, olive oil, and salt. Stir well. (add basil if using). Pour in the rest of the water, then add the flour and turn on the mixer. Mix until the dough comes clean from the sides of the work bowl, adding extra flour if necessary. Dough should be just-moist but not sticky at all. Knead with the mixer and dough hook for 10 minutes, or turn the dough out onto a clean counter if using a processor or your hands, and knead by hand until smooth, 10 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto the counter if using the mixer, and knead by hand for another minute. 

Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl and turn it once to coat with oil. Cover with damp towel. Let rise 2 hours. Dough should double in bulk. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two balls by rounding out the dough and pinching it at the bottom. Cover and let rest again for about 10 minutes. 

Oil a pizza pan with olive oil and stretch or roll the dough to size. Top with your favorite toppings, brush the crusts with olive oil, and bake until lightly golden.


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