Cougar Gold Mac & Cheese with Ham
My husband and I both graduated from Washington State University (Go Cougs!) and one thing that every true Coug treasures is Cougar Gold! It's a sharp white cheddar cheese that is made at the university by students and it is heavenly. It's more commonly found in the Pacific North West and if you don't have access to it I will shed a tear for you.
Cougar Gold is great for just snacking but the can is so large that we usually make mac and cheese (to my hubby's delight) in order to use it all up. It does run a little costly and if you don't have access to it or the cost is a little steep I find that Kerrygold Dubliner cheese is a good sub (or you can use any sharp cheddar you'd like).
I added ham this time around but I have also made it with bacon too and both are great add ins.
Bring a pot of water to boiling on the stove in order to cook your pasta while you work on your cheese sauce. I started out by giving the ham a quick sear just to give it that really great texture and flavor. If you choose to use bacon you would cook it off at this time too.
Then I remove it from the pan and use the same pan to make the roux. This just picks up any flavor left behind by the meat and adds it to your dish. I used homemade lard as my fat because I had it on hand but you could use butter or if you choose bacon over ham then the grease drippings would be perfect! To make your roux, melt down your fat and whisk in flour. Cook it out until all the raw flour is gone. It should be fairly quick.
I add a little chicken bouillon at this point because it gives a little flavor boost. Then slowly add your milk a little at a time while whisking. If you add it in too quickly your base might get a little lumpy. Once your milk is mixed in and you have the texture you want, add in your cheese and whisk until it's melted. As you cook it will continue to thicken. At any point if it gets too thick you can always add a few tablespoons of milk to thin it out. Add pepper and salt to taste and set aside.
When your pasta is al dente (you'll be finishing it off in the oven so you don't want to over cook it) reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain your pasta. Return drained pasta to the pot and add ham and your cheese sauce. If it has thickened, adding a little of the reserved pasta water (a little at a time) will help thin out your sauce as well as help the sauce cling to the pasta. Only use as much as you need to get the desired thickness of your sauce.
Pour into a greased baking pan and preheat the oven to 375. Now melt two tablespoons of butter in a pan and add Italian bread crumbs. Only cook for about 1 -2 minutes on low and remove from heat. Once it has cooled down a little add parmesan cheese and top off the mac and cheese with the bread crumb mixture.
Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until topping has become golden brown. Serve hot and savor every bite!
Cougar Gold Mac & Cheese
Serves 4-6 people
1 box of pasta shape of your choice
8 oz of diced ham
2 tbsp of butter (or lard, or reserved bacon grease)
1 tsp Chicken Bullion
1 1/2 cups of milk plus more to thin sauce if necessary
2 1/2 cups shredded Cougar Gold (or sharp cheddar of your choice)
1 tsp pepper
salt to taste
2 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 tbs parmasean cheese
Bring water to boil and cook pasta to al dente. While water is coming to a boil brown ham in a pan. Remove from pan and add butter. Melt butter and whisk in flour until just cooked to form a roux. Add chicken bullion. Slowly whisk in milk. When a sauce is formed slowly whisk in cheese. Add more milk if sauce is too thick. Whisk in salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375. When pasta and sauce are done combine and add in ham. Pour into greased baking pan. In a small pan melt 2 tbsp of butter and mix in bread crumbs. Cook for 1-2 min on low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding parmesan cheese. Sprinkle of the top of mac and cheese and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Serve hot and enjoy!