Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Katie: Mozzarella Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon

       One of my favorite comfort foods ever: Macaroni and Cheese. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to have some in a long while, baring the one time we picked up Black Truffle Mac and Cheese pre-made from Whole Foods for a date day that was utterly delectable! In any case, its been on the craving list and now that I have some free time, I decided to make my own version last night.

The Challenges to Overcome: 

1. Husband doesn't like cheese. 
Potentially a major obstacle when it comes to making Mac and Cheese as that is kind of the prime ingredient. He offered to let me just make it for myself, but I don't like cooking so much as to want to make something for one, and we live on a rather small grocery budget, so I don't like spending money on food only I can eat even if he says hes ok with it. 
The Solution:  Mozzarella!
He does like -or at least dislikes the least - mozzarella, so we agreed to try making the dish with exclusively this variety of cheese. 

2. Finding Cheese Husband can eat. 
The issue with many cheeses is they often have additives in them such as lactic acid. Most chemically derived additives are stabilized with corn, and as Husband is allergic to corn, most things with additives don't get to come home with us. Also, all pre-shredded cheese we could find  has anti-caking agents added that are corn-based, and any mozzarella that comes ball-shaped and packed in liquid it immersed in vinegar, which is also often corn based, so is therefor on our 'No-No' list.  
The Solution: Aldi!
After scouring the shelves of Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Publix, we finally found block mozzarella cheese at Aldi that was only 1.80 each (at least half the price of any other store) and had no additives in it. 

A tip for any one out there trying to eat healthy or avoid additives: stores such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods which are marketed as having healthy options can be really good resources, but sometimes they charge a lot more for food that isn't actually the best option on the market. Instead of assuming if such stores dont have it, no one else will, be willing to check more 'normal stores' such as Aldi and Publix: especially in the case of Aldi, you can often find much less expensive things that are even healthier for you then what you might find at a 'health food' store.    

3. Finding Healthy Bacon 
I've also been craving bacon for a while (because really, who doesn't?) but as we all know, bacon is on the 'Super Bad For You' list for many reasons, including being full of nitrates and additives and being super-processed. Also, most bacon comes from pigs who are fed corn, and while we do still occasionally eat meat that is corn fed, we are trying to cut it out of our diet entirely as it is bad for Husband in the long run. And me too I suppose. 
The Solution: Wellshire Bacon! 
The Wellshire Pork Shoulder Square Cut Uncured Bacon (Chopped and Formed) has an insanely long name, but is a great healthy bacon option that doesn't come from turkey and still tastes really good. We found it buy-one-get-one at Whole Foods, so it was pretty inexpensive. The pigs were raised with no antibiotics, there are no added nitrates and minimal processing, and it only has 6 ingredients. 


Another shopping tip: the more ingredients something has, the more likely it is you wont be able to eat it. Sometimes its worth reading through the ingredients list as some things have long lists with
real ingredients. But as a general rule of thumb, if you're trying to quickly scan ingredient lists while trying to not spend for ever in the store, long lists = bad food.  

The Finished Product
       After gathering all the specialty ingredients, I began. I based it off of This Recipe I found online, but used almost 16oz. of mozzarella - hand shredded - and used a little more then a cup and a half of cream instead of milk since we didn't have any in the house. Also, I only left it in the oven for about 20 minutes since Husband had pre-cooked the healthy whole-grain noodles for me but they got a little over-cooked, since the healthy ones don't cook the same as regular ones. The bacon I  cut up in chunks and fried separately, then mixed it in with the cheese sauce before pouring over the noodles. It fried up pretty well, though it didn't get super-crispy like regular bacon, but that could be because I just didn't cook it long enough. It still tasted a lot like bacon though and added a nice flavor to the Mac and Cheese. When making the cheese sauce, I realized I probably wasn't going to have enough for the amount of noodles, plus it still looked really thick, so I added in some water - maybe about half a cup  - to stretch it a bit.

  The end result had some texture issues; after careful analysis, Husband and I determined it was probably the extra starchiness from the over-cooked noodles and using cream instead of milk, plus possibly the egg, that contributed to the weird texture and lack of really cheesy sauce. Also, mozzarella has a higher moister content then cheddar cheese, so we think that may have contributed to the difference in consistency.  

All in all it turned out pretty good, though it doesn't taste like traditional Mac and Cheese. Once I got past that part, I really like this dish and will probably be doing it again, only next time with actual milk, more cheese, and I might leave out the egg to see what happens.    

The final touch: Ketchup! I have this weird enjoyment of putting ketchup on my Mac and Cheese, and this dish lent it self well to some ketchup-y enjoyment! 

Husband found me this organic ketchup from Trader Joe's that tastes great and isn't very expensive for a healthy, organic thing. 

         

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