- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Macaroni and cheese is the cozy quilt of the culinary world.

Is it any wonder that when the Tillamook County Creamery Association wanted to showcase its famous cheddar cheeses it launched an annual macaroni-and-cheese contest? Now in its fourth year, the contest has inspired more than 2,000 recipe entries. Concoctions received by the Oregon cooperative have included mac and cheese with smoked salmon, caramelized onion and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes turned up in two variations of the classic dish.

Although contestants boast their dish “isn’t your grandma’s mac and cheese,” that isn’t necessarily a virtue, says Kathy Holstad, senior brand manager for Tillamook.

“I love grandma’s mac and cheese,” says Miss Holstad, who tastes the best entries and never tires of the dish.

With plenty of experience behind her, she offers some tips.

• Use a flavorful sharp or extra-sharp cheese.

• Use more than one type of cheese for more depth of flavor. Blend cheddar with Gruyere, for example.

• Macaroni and cheese is at its best right from the oven.

Although you can make the dish in advance and reheat it, the quality will suffer.

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the cheese association is releasing “The Tillamook Cheese Cookbook” (Arnica Publishing), available in bookstores and through Internet booksellers.

Inspired by more than two dozen recipes for macaroni and cheese in the cookbook, here’s a Two’s Company recipe for winter warmth.

Mac and cheese for two

Makes 2 servings

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups hot milk, whole milk or 2 percent

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese

3 cups cooked cavatappi (corkscrew pasta), or similar size pasta

1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons coarse bread crumbs

Melt butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually add hot milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until thickened and just bubbling. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat. Add cheddar and Colby Jack cheeses by the handful. Stir in cooked pasta. Spoon into buttered 1 1/2-quart glass baking dish. Combine Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Sprinkle over macaroni and cheese. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until topping is lightly browned and cheese is bubbling.

Note: If you use 2 percent milk and reduced-fat cheeses, you can shave about 120 calories and 10 grams of fat from each serving.


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