Baked Mac-n-Cheese Station with Toppings Bar

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I hope you had a wonderful weekend! As I mentioned earlier, we threw our annual ‘welcome January pajama/dessert party‘ on Saturday—-a slumber party style evening with comfort foods, spiked hot caramel apple cider and a battle of the sexes game night by the fireplace. I can tell you first hand there is nothing quite like hosting a houseful of friends while wearing one-piece, adult-sized feetie PJs and sipping wine out of formal glassware.

I’m sure you remember from my CT Style TV segments, that I like to come up with creative food stations when entertaining. I love the interactive feel and the freedom guests have to make something their own, so for this cozy evening I chose homemade baked mac-n-cheese.

I set up our buffet table with chafing dishes full of the rich, creamy noodles, accompanied by a row of complimentary toppings. It was no surprise that bacon was the most popular, but the breaded chicken cutlets, broccoli, peas, shredded parmesan, crunchy fried onions and olives weren’t far behind. Hot sauces and truffle oils make for great ad-ons as well so get creative when you try this at home!

To go with the theme of the party, I set up a second station in the kitchen with our air popped popcorn maker, like last year. Red and white striped bags were arranged on a table for guests to fill and coat with choices of melted butter, sea salt, garlic powder and grated cheeses. It was so much fun!

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And because you can never have too much food, I also whipped up sweet and spicy meatballs, artichoke & basil white bean dip, baked brie with chocolate balsamic and raspberry chutney and s’mores casserole, while friends brought hot sausage dip, chocolate chip walnut banana bread, Nutella chocolate chip cookies and a chocolate hazelnut peach tart. YUM.

The recipe I used for the baked mac-n-cheese is adapted from the box of a brand of pasta that I wrote down many years ago. The only part of it still from the original is the measurements for creating the roux–a combination of flour and butter–to thicken the sauce.

Another time I will share my creation for a grilled cheese and tomato soup version, but for this party I used a combination of cheddar cheeses and a little monterey jack before baking it with garlic and herb breadcrumbs. I tripled the recipe to feed our crowd (with three types of noodles for fun!), but it makes plenty for a family dinner on a chilly winter night.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we all did!

Ingredients:

1 lb short noodles of your choice (elbows, shells, rotini, penne….)

¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour

3 cups milk

1 cup shredded Sargento 4 State Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1/4-1/2 cup garlic and herb bread crumbs

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375° and melt butter in a large saucepan.

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Blend in flour and gradually add milk, stirring constantly until sauce is thickened.

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It will begin to look like a gravy.

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Add cheese.

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Stir well to melt cheese and season with salt and pepper.

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Cook and drain pasta according to directions.

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Pour noodles into baking dish and ladle cheese sauce over top, being sure to coat all the pasta.

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Cover the top with breadcrumbs.

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Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown.

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Serve with a variety of toppings.

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Eat and enjoy in your pajamas!

….

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