This dish accomplished two things for me: 1) allowed me to use up some random stuff in the fridge; 2) gave me an opportunity to try the new Philadelphia Cooking Creme. Although the Creme definitely took some time off my usual recipe (which consists mostly of Muenster Cheese - I've never made Mac and Cheese with Cream Cheese), there was so much stuff involved that I didn't get a real feel for the product on it's own. That just means I'll have to get more and try something else! ;)
The Creme happened to catch my eye at the market yesterday when I popped in to pick up a few steaks. That was the first time I had come across it, but that particular market only had the Original version. They did not stock the Santa Fe, Garlic, or Italian varieties. If you like your Mac and Cheese creamy, this is definitely a recipe for you! It was very creamy and flavorful.
The only thing I usually add to my Mac and Cheese is jalapenos, but I had half of a red bell pepper, a few slices of bacon, and some thyme left over from making Chicken Corn Chowder the other night, so I figured I'd go for it and throw them in, along with some parsley that was on its last leg, and the random variety of cheeses in the cheese drawer. Well, some anyhow - didn't want too many cheeses.
1/2 lb corkscrew elbow pasta
3-4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumled
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
10 oz Philadelphia Cooking Creme
3 slices American cheese, diced
2 handfuls shredded Cheddar
2 handfuls shredded Mozzarella
seasoned bread crumbs
Cook your pasta in salted water to al dente. Drain and pour into a casserole dish that has either been buttered or sprayed. I suddenly drew a blank on whether I normally butter my dish and didn't feel like dragging out my usual recipe, so I just gave it a quick shot of PAM. Better safe than sorry.
Cook your bacon until it's crispy, then pour or wipe out the grease, leaving just a touch left in the pan. Use that grease to cook the veggies. I started off with the onion, pepper, and thyme, seasoning with a little salt and garlic powder. I threw in the parsley and bacon just as I was taking it off the heat. Set that aside while you get your cheeses going.
In a non-stick pot over medium heat, scoop in the Philadelphia Cooking Creme and stir in about 3T of milk to get it going. Once that has warmed up and is smooth and creamy, add the American Cheese, stirring until smooth, then the Cheddar, then the Mozzarella. When it's all nice and creamy, add in a little Parmesan and a sprinkle of garlic powder. If it seems stiff, add a tablespoon or two more milk. If it seems too thin, add another slice of American Cheese. I did end up adding a little milk at the end myself.
When the cheese is at a consistency you like, pour it over the pasta and stir it well to distribute the cheese into all the little nooks and crannies, then stir in your veggie mixture.
Top the whole casserole with a sprinkling of seasoned bread crumbs and some more Parmesan, then dot with butter and sprinkle a little paprika. If you have it, smoky paprika is really nice.
Bake at 350 until golden and bubbly, about 30".