07 January 2010

you asked for 'em!

last night i hosted my annual girls' holiday party and gift exchange (yes, it's always in january - easier not to deal with all of the december conflicts and it's so nice to have one last party to wrap up the season).

i look forward to this party every year because i get to spend time catching up with so many wonderful ladies and, well, because i love a party. we spend hours gossiping about boys, jobs, engagements, babies (this is a relatively new development for us!), and have an increasingly wild gift exchange - all presents must come from good vibrations or some place similar.

i hear that there are LOTS of happy ladies, hubbies and boyfriends every year when the girls get home!

another tradition is that, every single year, i serve up my favorite mac 'n' cheese. this year i had SO MANY requests for the recipe that i thought i'd share.

cupcake and frosting recipes below as well!
Jen's Bacon Mac 'n' Cheese (loosely based on Martha Stewart's Favorite Macaroni and Cheese recipe, but modified and simplified over the years)
Serves 12. (but i made 3 full recipes for you girls!)

* roughly 5-6 cups grated cheese. (This can really be any kind you want - including blue, brie or goat - though I'd recommend that at least half is a sharp white Cheddar or Gruyère. For the party, I used white Cheddar, Swiss, Jarlsberg, Gruyère, Jack, and Parmesan - basically anything that was already in the house!)
* 1/2 pound (minimum) good smoked bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces
**NOTE: save your bacon-fat as you fry and set aside!
* 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 5 cups milk
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
* 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
* 1 pound elbow macaroni (small)
* 1/2 to 1 cup Japanese panko flakes (you can buy 6 oz. bags by Wel-Pac at Safeway in the Asian Foods section)

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat in medium to large pot. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute or until brown and pasty.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
4. Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, black pepper, chili powder and 3-4 cups cheese. Set cheese sauce aside.
5. Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. In a small bowl, melt 2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat (or butter if you're running low) in the microwave. Add panko and toss. Set aside.
7. Pour half of macaroni and cheese mixture into a large baking dish. Cover with bacon. Pour remaining half over bacon.
8. Sprinkle remaining cheese, and panko, over top. Bake until browned on top, about 30-45 minutes. Cool 5 minutes; serve hot.

by far, the most popular gift of the night. who knew?!

Devil's Food Cupcakes (based on Michael Recchiuti's Devil’s Food Hearts recipe.)
Serves 24.

* 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
* 2/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 cup strong coffee (I like Peet's French Roast), brewed and cooled
* 1/2 cup flavorless vegetable oil
* 1 cup whole milk
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Madagascar Bourbon
* 2 cup granulated cane sugar
* 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. Stir the baking soda into the coffee in another bowl and then stir in the oil, milk and pure vanilla extract.
3. Combine the sugar and egg in a medium bowl and whisk together by hand. Whisk in the flour mixture in 2 additions, alternately with the coffee mixture in 1 addition.
4. Pour the batter, 1/4 cup per cupcake, into tins.
5. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Cakes hsould be moist to the touch and slightly springy. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Golden Cake Recipe, courtesy of Valerie
Serves 24.

* 1 3/4 cups spooned and leveled cake flour (no substitute - must be cake flour)
* 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1/3 c water
* 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
* 2 teaspoons vanilla
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/3 cup canola oil
* 3 large egg yolks
* 2 large eggs
* 1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
2. Beat flour and baking powder for a full 30 seconds at medium speed on the mixer, then pour the flour mixture into a large bowl and set aside. Don't wash the mixer bowl.
3. Add the sugar to the bowl and place back on mixer.
4. Heat water in microwave or on stove, and add to mixer bowl. Beat a few seconds to dissolve the sugar, then beat in butter, vanilla and salt. Add oil and mix on medium to blend.
5. Sprinkle 1/3 of flour mixture over sugar mixture. Blend on low with a minimum amount of beating. Continue adding flour until incorporated.
6. By hand, stir in yolks one at a time. Then stir in whole eggs one at a time.
7. Place a bowl, beaters, and heavy cream in freezer for 5 minutes. Whisk the cream until soft peaks form. Whip just a little beyond this. Stir 1/4 of whipped cream into the batter to lighten, then gently fold the rest of the whipped cream into batter.
8. Pour batter, 1/4 cup per cupcake, into tins. (Drop from 4" or so to knock out bubbles.) Bake until center springs back when touched or toothpick is clean. My cupcakes took about 15 minutes. Let cake cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Browned-Butter Frosting, courtesy of Land O' Lakes
Serves 24.

* 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 3 cups powdered sugar
* 12 teaspoons vanilla
* 3 to 4 tablespoons whole milk or cream - or as needed
* salt to taste (maybe a pinch or two)

1. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring constantly and watching closely, until butter starts to turn golden (4 to 6 minutes). (Butter will get foamy and bubble.) Remove from heat. Cool completely (and don't worry about the browned bits, they're tasty).
2. Combine browned butter, powdered sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl. Beat at medium speed, gradually adding enough milk for desired spreading (or eating!) consistency.

HAPPY BAKING! and, oh yeah...

courtesy of one of last night's guests


  1. You had me at bacon for the mac + cheese, and then sealed the deal with the panko crust. YUM!!!

  2. Hello, you have interesting home decor below. I'm planning to turn my room all white, fairytale dreamy like. Still searching ideas for my other rooms :)


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