Hubby and I just hosted our (7th?) annual Halloween bash, complete with a keg of home-brewed pumpkin beer, candy table equipped with trick-or-treat bags, animatronics in our haunted graveyard out back, and six competitors entered in our Macaroni and Cheese cook-off.
We started this friendly food competition last year with chili, and it was such a big hit we were excited to do it again. With so much buzz from our mac and cheese station at last year’s PJ/dessert party, it was clear this was the genre to choose! Friends eagerly signed up, talking smack to one another and getting their game face on. After tasting each selection, every guest was allowed to place one vote in the provided plastic brain.
To encourage good sportsmanship, our official rules stated that competitors were not allowed to vote for themselves, but rather recognize the other enjoyable dishes they were up against. 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons were awarded, while the 1st place winner was also given a gift bag full of goodies, the privilege of choosing next year’s cook-off (ahh, the pressure!) and an opportunity to be featured here on That’s SO Jenn!
The results were incredible. Such a wide variety of creative, DELICIOUS options, with clever titles, unique ingredients and even a variety of noodles. There was everything from buffalo chicken mac and cheese balls to lobster mac and cheese, a spicy version with pepperjack, chorizo and cherry tomatoes, shells with beer cheese, onions and a maple bacon weave, “Chili Out There” (get it??) beanless beef chili mac, and the number one pick: Erin Villaverde’s “The Holy Cheeses”: A baked, creamy, melt-in-your mouth cavatappi pasta with cheddar, havarti, smoked gouda, parmesan and a buttery golden Ritz cracker topping. The tagline? “It will have you praying for more!”
Erin’s hearty, classic take on this beloved comfort food boasted a little twist–just enough to propel her to the top. We don’t have step-by-step photos for this one, but the easy-to follow-instructions will guide you along the way! Congratulations and thanks for sharing your creation with us!
1lb cavatappi pasta (or favorite noodle of your choice)
5 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 (8oz) blocks VT Cabot sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup creamy havarti cheese, shredded
1 cup smoked gouda, shredded
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Butter or olive oil to coat pasta
For Ritz Cracker Crumb Topping:
1 sleeve ritz crackers
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil pasta according to al dente instructions. Rinse noodles with cold water and return to pot. Toss pasta with a touch of butter or olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.
Prepare Ritz Cracker Crumb Topping: Melt butter in a pan until it starts to brown. Crumble Ritz crackers and add to butter. Season with garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and let cook until lightly toasted, stirring on occasion. Set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3 quart casserole dish and set aside.
Stir up cheese sauce: Heat milk in a sauce pan over medium heat. In a separate pot, melt butter over medium heat. When the butter begins to brown and bubble, add flour and whisk together, cooking for about 1 minute. While whisking slowly, add warm milk. Continue whisking until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, about 10 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and stir in salt, pepper, dry mustard, smoked paprika, 3 cups shredded cheddar, 1/2 cup shredded havarti, 1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan. The remaining cheese will be sprinkled over top. Stir until melted and sauce is smooth.
Assemble: Pour cheese sauce over noodles, stirring until completely covered. Add 1/2 the cheesy noodles to your casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the remaining shredded cheese. Add remainder of noodles and sprinkle on the rest of the shredded cheese.
Top with Ritz cracker crumb topping and bake in oven for about 25-30 minutes. Cheese should be melted and bubbly, while cracker coating will be lightly browned.
Eat and enjoy this yummy homemade comfort food!
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