The chill of fall and winter heralds many changes, including our appetite for heartier foods. This is the perfect time to break out the casserole dishes and whip up your family’s favorite comfort foods. Americans seem to agree that when it comes to comfort classics, macaroni and cheese is what they crave. In fact, according to mymacaroniandcheese.info, in any given twelve-week period, approximately one-third of the population of the United States will eat macaroni and cheese at least once…that’s just about 105 million people!
Mac and cheese is always in style and has inspired countless websites, books and even a song or two. The beauty of this menu standard is how easy it is to dress up or down – depending on your culinary preference (or ingredients you have handy). In fact, Laura Werlin, cheese expert and James Beard award-winning author, offers up 50 ways to customize mac and cheese in her new cookbook, “Mac & Cheese, Please!”
“Throughout the years, macaroni and cheese has been a staple at dinner tables. Being from California, I love that California’s cow’s milk cheesemakers make over 250 styles of California cheeses. This variety leads to endless possibilities and opportunities for creating unique, memorable and delicious renditions,” says Werlin.
All you need to make your own memorable rendition is the California Milk Advisory Board’s (CMAB) recipe for “Mac and Cheese Three-Ways” – one recipe that can be made into a main dish for dinner, appetizers for a party or soup for a warm lunch. With California sharp Cheddar cheese and smoked Mozzarella along with sun-dried tomatoes and crunchy panko bread crumbs, this recipe is a triple-play to add to your recipe repertoire. Add in chopped cooked bacon or grilled chicken for a heartier version.
Make sure to look for the Real California Milk and Cheese seals to guarantee you’re getting products made with 100 percent California milk from California’s over 1500 dairy families. For more recipes and entertaining ideas, visit RealCaliforniaMilk.com, like RCM at Facebook.com/RealCalifMilk or follow at Twitter.com/RealCalifMilk, Pinterest at Pinterest.com/RealCalifMilk and Instagram at Instagram.com/RealCalifMilk.
CALIFORNIA SMOKEY MAC & CHEESE THREE WAYS
Smoked Mozzarella cheese and sun-dried tomatoes take macaroni and cheese to a whole new level! Serve as is, or turn this recipe into soup or a bite-sized appetizer.
3 1/2 tablespoons California butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/3 cups California milk
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/4 cups shredded sharp California Cheddar cheese, divided
3/4 cup shredded smoked California Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup white or wheat small elbow macaroni, cooked according to
package directions and well drained
1/4 cup minced smoked sun-dried tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400°F and lightly butter 4 individual baking dishes with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Melt remaining butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Whisk in milk and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently; stir in mustard, salt and basil. Add 1 cup Cheddar cheese and the Mozzarella cheese a little at a time, cooking and stirring until melted; stir in cooked macaroni and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes more. Pour into prepared dishes. Stir together bread crumbs and remaining cheese and sprinkle over top. Cook for 10 minutes or lightly browned and bubbly on top.
Makes 4 servings
Small Bite Appetizer Mac & Cheese Cup Variation:
Press 24 wonton wrappers into 24 lightly greased mini muffin cups, pressing firmly so that the cups are flat on the bottom. Spoon macaroni mixture into wonton cups. Sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture and bake for 10 minutes, tenting with foil after 5 minutes.
Makes 8 appetizer servings
Mac & Cheese Soup Variation:
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup each: 1/4-inch diced onion, celery and carrots and cook for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth and cook for 10 minutes more. Stir into prepared macaroni and cheese and cook until very hot. Sprinkle each serving with breadcrumb mixture, if desired.
Makes 4 servings
Recipe and photo credit: California Milk Advisory Board