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Bacon, bacon, bacon!
Now that I have your attention, let's throw in some pasta and cheese and make a boring old dish come alive!
Gather your supplies.
I love to cook for my family. While I will agree that pre-packaged food is much more convenient, there is nothing quite like the taste of homemade. It doesn't take much longer to make it from scratch and you will find your grocery bill dropping substantially if you choose to switch to homemade instead of pre-packaged food.
My family and I are full time RV-ers and we love to travel. It's expensive to purchase the fuel required to move two vehicles, a trailer and five people so I cut corners wherever I can. I can generally feed all five people for $10 a day (and I have two teenage boys)! This recipe is a bit more expensive, but most of the time you will have the ingredients in your home to throw this dish together. All of my recipes are cooked in cast iron and I can cook every one in a professional kitchen or over an open fire. I also cook like I'm cooking for the neighborhood so you may want to adjust the recipe to fit the size of your family.
Let's take a moment to gather the supplies and ingredients you will need to make Mama Dean's Bacon Mac and Cheese.
- Cutting board.
- Knives. Ok, so technically, one knife will do, but I'm old and set in my ways. I use one for the meat and the other for everything else.
- Cheese grater, or you can use the prepackaged parmesan cheese from the dollar store.
- Pasta. Two pounds for my family. Go ahead and salt your water, add a little butter and start it boiling. While you prepare the rest of the ingredients, your pasta will be cooking. This is one pot so we can't get to the good stuff (bacon) until the pasta is finished, drained and set aside so the pot you are using can get back on that heat source! Of course, plenty of leftovers in the fridge for the next few days and if one of the neighbors is hungry, I've got plenty to feed them.
- Butter or margarine.
- Cream cheese. Walmart has the best buy for cream cheese but you can use any kind you'd like. One block.
- Velveeta cheese or any easy melt block of cheese. My family actually prefers the Walmart generic and it is about three dollars cheaper a block where I live.
- Tillamook cheddar cheese. I suppose I should tell you that any cheddar cheese will work, but my heart won't let me. If you are not familiar with Tillamook products, please find their website and order a sample package. You will not be disappointed! Use about a quarter of a block or half a bag of the shredded cheddar.
- Onion soup mix. Any brand will work just fine. Use one envelope.
- Milk for thickening your cheese sauce. Because you will most likely use different cheeses than I have used and they all break down at different temperatures, I can't give you a standard measurement for this step. I used about two cups.
- Pepper to taste.
- Salt in the water to boil your pasta and nowhere else! That is very important. The other spices and bacon are going to further salt your dish. If you aren't careful, you will find it over-salted very quickly.
- Onion. Use one large or one and a half medium.
- Garlic is like bacon in my house. Is there a such thing as too much?
- Parmesan cheese grated directly in to the cheese sauce.
- Knorr chicken bullion. Shhhhhhh. This is my super secret ingredient. I put it in just about everything I cook. Used correctly, it enriches the flavor of any dish.
- Bacooooon. One and one half pounds. You can't go wrong with bacon or garlic.
- Before you do anything else, go ahead and dice your onions and garlic, cube the easy melt cheese, cheddar and cream cheese, and slice the bacon. You will need your oven set at 350°, but I like to wait until further in the process before I start to bring my oven to temperature. I use propane to cook in the RV and it saves me about a gallon a week to just use it when I really need it.
Cry and fry.
I use a cast iron Dutch oven for almost everything that comes out of my kitchen. I love the non stick aspect of the cast iron, but I have learned in my travels that sometimes the only option is to adapt and overcome and I found the solution in cast iron. I can just as easily build a campfire or simply lay charcoal in a fire proofed area on the ground and cook this same dish in my Dutch oven. You can use any large heavy pot that you have available.
After I allowed my pot to preheat, I turned the heat down to a medium high and threw in the onions and garlic together. Sauté for about three to five minutes.
The moment we have all been waiting for! Get that bacon in with the onions and garlic and smell the magic start to happen. Put a lid on your pot and allow your bacon to cook for about five minutes. This is going to allow the grease to start releasing and it allows the spices to kind of be soaked up by the grease and distributed evenly throughout the dish.
Let's get spicy!
Take that lid off and bask in the aroma of the goodness that is before you. Give it a quick stir and add your spices right on top. There are a few things you need to remember here. All of your flavor enhancement happens right here. Your entire dish is seasoned in this step, so use a bit more than you normally would. You still have cheese and pasta to add! Add the envelope of onion soup mix and use a liberal amount of pepper. Time for that super secret (shhhhhhh) ingredient, the chicken bullion. Just sprinkle a light layer over the top of the bacon. Allow the bacon to cook to your preference. Less than crispy is best for this dish, but it's bacon, there is no wrong answer.
Time to add the cream cheese. Put those cubes right in with the bacon grease. Don't you drain a thing! This is super important for the texture and consistency of your finished dish as it allows the cream cheese to melt completely and really blend with the cheeses that are yet to come. Once you add your milk, the cream cheese stops melting and you will end up with chunks of unflavored cream cheese in the final product. Take a moment to start the preheat on your oven now. 350° takes about ten minutes to reach full temperature in my oven. If you need to do this outside with an open fire or charcoal, a heat source needs to come from the top and bottom for the baking step. Sitting your Dutch oven on a ring of glowing charcoal with 16 pieces placed on top of the lid will allow you to bake at about 400°, so your time will be reduced by about 10 minutes.
Too easy to be super cheesy.
Everything moves pretty quickly now. At this point, stirring is everything. Don't stop until your cheese is completely melted. Start with your parmesan as it's pretty foolproof and won't immediately melt and burn before you can start stirring. It takes about 10 minutes to get everything at the correct temperature to break down and blend. Add milk. I use about two cups. You will burn your milk and ruin the entire dish if.you are not careful. Don't stop stirring!
Thick and Creamy
Your cheese should be thick and creamy. Your work is coming to an end. Just add your pasta now and mix thoroughly. Put the lid on and bake at 350° for 15 minutes and then turn off your oven. Don't open that oven door just yet! Allow your bacon mac and cheese to stay in the oven for another 10 minutes. If you are using an open fire or charcoal, 15 minutes is all you will need.
Now dig in. I hope your family and friends enjoy this recipe as much as mine do!