When I was a kid, my parents would take us for Sunday lunch at Po Folks, one of those family-style Southern restaurants where the drinks are served in Mason jars and the menu features appetizements, onion rangs and Kuntry Fried Steak Salad. One particularly eventful Sunday, Daddy decided I was old enough to order off the menu. I told him I wanted the veggie plate. With Mashed Po-taters, a Baked Po-Tater, Po-Tater Salad and French Fries.

“Rebecca, you are not eating four kinds of potatoes. Pick a real vegetable.”

“Macaroni and cheese.”

In the South, mac and cheese IS a vegetable. Look at any menu of “homestyle veggies,” and you’ll find it, sitting right above the mashed potatoes. We eat it at home, school, potlucks, restaurants, holiday dinners and funerals. Restaurants (and women) are judged on the quality of their macaroni and cheese.

So, when the Barefoot Bloggers decided to try Ina Garten’s Grown-Up Mac and Cheese this week, I felt well-versed. Then a quick glance at the recipe put me on notice. Bacon? Gruyere? Blue cheese? Breadcrumbs and basil?

Where was the SOUR CREAM?

I had to dig deep and get in touch with the Zen of Ina. Yes, I’ll use a baking rack, sheet pan, pasta pot, small saucepan, medium saucepan, food processor and four small casserole dishes just to make one batch of macaroni and cheese. Of course, I’ll buy three cheeses when the one true mac and cheese choice is Cheddar. Chewy, baked-in bacon? OK, Ina. OK.

A few years ago, I needed to resign from a job, but I felt guilty about it. Finally, I told myself I was taking up Someone Else’s Ideal Job, and that made leaving easier. This is Someone Else’s Favorite Mac and Cheese. It’s sophisticated. The flavors are complex; the textures are varied. But when it comes to comfort food, I don’t want “grown up.” I want the gooey, intensely Cheddary macaroni and cheese that you take one look at and KNOW you shouldn’t eat, but you dip in anyway. And then dip in again.

What about you? Are there any foods you prefer simple rather than sophisticated? Like, say, four kinds of taters?

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

From Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa” (via Food Network)

  • 4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese
  • 3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan, and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.
  3. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni, and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil.
  5. In a medium pot, melt the butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.
  6. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth.
  7. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  8. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon, and stir well.
  9. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.
  10. Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil, and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.