Get ready bacon lovers. This is for you. Especially for my dear friend Chelsey who put in a special request for this recipe. And I can't say no to Chelse. She was amongst the first people to say "Renee, you should start a food blog!", after I posted a picture of smoked salmon corn cakes on my Facebook page last summer. Other friends soon took up the chorus, and the proverbial light bulb went off over my head. Ah ha!
The thing is, Chelse is one of my oldest friends in the whole world, knowing me from the time of vile haircuts and bad skin to glasses that should never, ever have been worn. We met in Grade 8 Science Class. I sat in front of her, and probably asked to borrow a pencil or something. With a matching quirky sense of humour, we somehow managed to escape relatively unharmed (at least physically) from the hell that was junior high. Bonding at sleepovers with "Slang Teasers" and Ouija Boards, watching Ferris and eating DQ ice cream cake, those days were golden. Our friend Mel came into the picture in grade 10, and those two ladies made me laugh in class probably more than I should have. Twenty years ago this June we graduated from the same high school in the same small town. When we were 18, we'd drive down the four-laner blaring Madonna and the B'52s, eyes wide, wondering just what was in store for our little lives.
We moved on. Chelse and I moved to Saskatoon, and a couple of years later I moved to Montreal. Over the years there have been marriages, babies, busy careers, and long distances. But the thing about old friendships is that they take a little work to maintain. You have to fight a little bit for it. Everyone is busy; with work and family; with life. Send little messages here and there. Call once in awhile. Let them know you haven't forgotten them. Being spread across this massive country of ours, visits are infrequent, but fabulous. Mel and I text almost everyday, and Chelse leaves really kind, encouraging comments on FB. It's the little things that keep you in touch. And when you have a history as full and rich as ours, you never ever want to lose that closeness.
Now the Mac and Cheese Bit. Chelse loves her bacon almost as much as I do. When she heard I put bacon in my Mac, she was intrigued. Cooking the onions and garlic in the bacon fat is a little piece of heaven I'm happy to give you. You don't have to use as much bacon, or any at all (!!!!!) but if you are going to the land of mac and cheese, you might as well go all out. I don't eat or make this everyday. It's a treat. So make it like a treat. Use good, aged cheddar, preferably white, or switch it up with some Swiss or Gouda or Provolone or Fontina. Whole wheat pasta adds some fibre (and you know how I feel about fibre!), and if you wanted to feel a little less guilty, add some broccoli or cauliflower before you put it in the oven. But feeling guilty gets you nowhere. So indulge in this Magnificence. Call some old friends and give them this recipe too.
The Magnificent Mac and Cheese
3 Cups of elbow macaroni
2 tsp. vegetable oil or butter
10 slices of bacon, chopped (if not using bacon, use 1/4 cup butter)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup plus a bit more all purpose flour
2 cups of milk
1/2 cup of 35% cream or half and half or milk (depending on your fat preference!)
1.5 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups of grated aged white cheddar, or a combination of your favourite cheeses
1 cup bread crumbs tossed with 2-3 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350*F
Grease a 9"x13" pan.
Boil the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss in either the oil melted butter. Set aside.