Personally, I think homemade macaroni and cheese should always come with bacon. Let's face it, there is pretty much nothing that couldn't be made even better, even richer with bacon. I have a great trick to have a splatter-proof kitchen too. It's surprising how many people don't know this, it's surprising I didn't know this until the invention of Pinterest!
Anyway, take a cookie sheet and line it with tinfoil. I think parchment paper would work too, but I have yet to try it. I'll let you know how it works when I do. Place the strips of bacon on the cookie sheet, you can lay them really close to one another, no worries about them touching or even over-lapping a little. They'll shrink up with plenty of room. However, usually only a half package will fit on one cookie sheet, if you need more or are doubling this recipe, you'll need 2 cookie sheets. Then cover with another layer of tinfoil and pull the center of the foil to make a kind of "tent." Place in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Another great thing with this method, is you don't see as much shrinkage, meaning more bang for your buck!
I'll also preface my recipe by saying that, I use a combination of different cheeses and I also used Ziti for my pasta. You can use whatever you want. If the traditional elbow macaroni is more your style, then by all means go for it!
Bacon Macaroni & Cheese
1lb. Ziti pasta, cooked approximately 4 minutes less than directed
1/2 lb. bacon
1 C. Mozarella cheese, shredded
1 C. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 oz. cream cheese
1-1/2 C. half & half
1-1/2 C. milk
1 package Ritz Crackers, crushed
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare pasta as directed, with slight variation of 4 minutes less cooking time. While the pasta is cooking, melt 2T. butter, add flour and continue to stir for 3-5 minutes. Add milk, continue to stir until mixture is no longer lumpy and has thickened. Reduce heat to med-low. Reserve 1/4 C. of mixture
Very slowly add literally DROPS of the reserved milk mixture to the egg yolks. You do not want to add large amounts at a time, because you will curdle the egg. This process is called "tempering." You're slowly raising the temperature of the egg yolks so they are not curdling, which will help to create a creamier sauce for your macaroni and cheese. If you're not comfortable, you can omit this step, but I highly recommend not to. With some practice, you'll be glad you have the eggs. I use a teaspoon, and put a tiny amount in the spoon and slowly add to the eggs while vigorously whisking. Once the entire 1/4 cup has been added to the egg, add to the remaining milk mixture, along with seasonings and stir well. Add 3/4 cup mozzarella and 1 cup sharp cheddar, stir to combine. Add cream cheese once the previous cheeses are entirely melted and combined. The cream cheese will take a while to melt in, just be sure it's entirely melted before continuing. Add the crushed, cooked bacon and stir.
Add your pasta, stir to coat. Pour into a large baking dish, cover with remaining cheeses and then crushed Ritz crackers. Pour 1/4 C. melted butter over the top, place in oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
I think what makes my macaroni & cheese different, and better is the addition of the cream cheese and one additional egg from the usual ONE total egg. I also use Ritz crackers, while most people use saltines, or bread crumbs, or panko. I think the Ritz crackers add for a richer experience. T claims the Ritz crackers make this dish, I think I will have to agree. But, you use whatever you want. Make it your own, that's what makes macaroni and cheese so amazing, you can literally tweak it to your preferences and still have an amazing dish. Keeping the amounts the same, change the cheeses and see what you get. Use pancetta or ham, instead of bacon, even chicken would work. Be creative! Let me know what you come up with.
So that's it for today. I hope you love this recipe as much as I do. What is your favorite macaroni & cheese recipe? (It's okay if it comes from a blue box. I'm not judging!)