Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In The Making : Caramelized Onion Mac & Cheese

It's been so long, I really don't know what to say. Perhaps only that this blog post has been a long time in the making. It's been far too long, I realize. Here it is, nearing the 2 o'clock hour (in the middle of the night, or early morning, however you want to look at it) and I type away. Determined. I can't fathom that months have passed without a word. A recipe. A photograph.

Life. It has a funny way of speeding up and passing you by. Wedding planning, deaths in the family, birthdays, a newborn, math exams and swimming the waters of my favorite lake on a nearly daily basis have gobbled up what has now quickly become a fast fading summer. Life gets the better of us at times, without our even realizing it, and that's what has happened to me. But, here I am, ready to return, for good. I will be finished with school next week, leaving me plenty of free time to finish planning my October wedding and blog. I truly plan to make up for my absence. 

 Only days after my 26th birthday, I feel it necessary to mark my return with a personal favorite. If I were hooked up to the electric chair tomorrow, this dish (in just about any form) would be on my last meal list.  Macaroni and cheese, it's always been a favorite. The mere mention has angels singing, heavenly light shining down, and my tastebuds wagging. There is something so simple yet unbeatable about pasta bathing in a silky, gooey, cheese sauce.

I'm always attracted to mac and cheese on a menu. If it's there, I generally have no choice but to order it. So it's fair to say that I've had quite a bit of macaroni and cheese in my day, and unfortunately rarely am I impressed with what I'm served. Restaurants have a hard time getting it right, often serving up oily, bland, or dry versions of this beloved dish of mine. Then a few months ago it happened, I met one of the ultimate mac and cheese matches at a new bistro here in Bellingham. The base was a white smoked gouda (which I'm not a general fan of, but boy did it work here), penne pasta, perfectly dark caramelized onion (I could eat caramelized onions all day long), and local bacon. They got it right, simply and straightforwardly. The flavor combination was not only spot on, but the texture was perfection, gooey, sticky, and silky. A bowl of stovetop mac and cheese perfection. The bistro was open for less than a year, then one day, on my way to treat myself to a bowl of said macaroni and cheese, there on the door hung a small craft paper sign, a goodbye letter. A few weeks have passed since that sad day, and the cravings finally hit me. So I picked up the same ingredients and set out to quell my thirst for the Bistros macaroni and cheese.

Perfection. Extra gooey sauce poured over perfectly al dente noodles, tossed with a large vat of caramelized onion and slow roasted salty bacon. My fork and I went a little nuts. But boy, was it worth the full belly ache and weight gain!

Caramelized Onion & Bacon 
Macaroni & Cheese 


2 onions
1/2 stick butter
1 Tablespoon evoo
6 slices of the best bacon you can get your hands on
1 cup smoked gouda
2 cups gruyere
1 cup sharp cheddar
1/2 cup parmesan/ramano/or pecorino
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
4 cups warm milk
14 1/2 oz penne pasta (cooked al dente)


1. First caramelize your onions. Halve or quarter your onions and cut into thin slices. Melt 1/2 stick butter and olive oil in a medium size, high sided skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, cook 5 minutes until slightly translucent, add salt and pepper (a pinch of cayenne for a kick) then reduce heat to very low. Cook for at least an hour, stirring occasionally, until onions are a gorgeous deep amber color. Remove onions from skillet and set aside.
2. Fry your bacon to your preference in the same skillet. Remove and place on paper towel to cool. Once it's cooled chop or tear into bite sized pieces.
3. To this very same skillet (imagine all that good bacon, caramelized onion flavor in there!) over medium/low heat, add 3 Tablespoons of butter and melt. Once butter has melted add the flour and cook together for at least one minute, you want to cook off the flour a bit so your sauce doesn't taste of it. Slowly whisk in your milk, I do about a cup at a time. Be sure to whisk well. After each addition let this mixture bubble and thicken (can take up to 5-10 minutes as you near the end). If need be add a bit more milk, you don't want this sauce to be oh-so thick because you'll be adding a lot of cheese which will naturally thicken it up.
4. Once you've got a slightly thick, silky bechamel, remove skillet from heat and whisk in cheeses, a few cups at a time, until fully incorporated and smooth.
5. With a wooden spoon, fold in your cooked pasta, then onions, and finally cooked bacon.
6. Try to resist eating the whole vat.

Expect to see a lot more of me my friends!