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Help with a Macaroni and Cheese Cookoff

I'm a long-time chowhound lurker, first time posting. My fate in an upcoming Macaroni and Cheese cookoff depends on you wonderful, knowledgeable hounds. Please critique my recipe below and help me ensure victory!

I have my hands on a rather good, yet quite boring Macaroni and Cheese recipe (see below). My roomate and her two incredibly gourmande grade-school aged children (7 and 10) believe it to be the best they have ever tasted. They challenged two friends who pride themselves on their M&C to a cookoff against me. They will be judging along with another friend.

Background information on the judges.

1) Adventurous, food-knowledgeable 40-something woman. Likes mild spiciness. Favourite cheese - Oka.

2) 10 year old child. Likes just about anything and everything except for "hot" flavours including black pepper. Favourite cheeses: blues.

3) 7 year old child. Can not tolerate anything "hot", less adventurous than her sister. Favourite cheese: Provolone.

4) (the REAL challenge) Late 30s man. The polar opposite of a foodie. Eats canned peas and turkey burgers every day for dinner (not an exagerration). No spice whatsoever (will eat basic Italian-ish herbs and garlic and that's about it). Probably a super-taster with a preference towards over-processed foods. Wants to be a judge most likely because of memories of Kraft Dinner (oy). Favourite cheese: mild cheddar.

I need to come up with a recipe that will appeal to all four judges. So far I have come up with the following. Please critique it and let me know if there is anything you can think of that would help improve my chances of winning!

Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups Elbow Macaroni
10 cups Boiling Water
2 tsps Kosher Salt

3/4 cup Chopped Onion
1/3 cup Butter

3 tbsp Flour
Pinch Pepper
1/2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Dry Mustard

2 cups Milk
¼ cup Heavy Cream
1 cup Grated Medium Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Grated Old Cheddar Cheese
½ cup Grated Smoked Gouda

4 tbsp Melted Butter
½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
¼ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 tbsp Parsley

Grease 2 quart casserole dish.

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes and then drain (pasta should NOT be fully cooked).

Sautee onion in butter in large saucepan until clear and soft.

Sprinkle onion with flour, pepper, paprika and mustard. Cook for 1 minute (flour should not brown).

Mix and stir in milk and cheese until it boils and cheese melts.

Add macaroni, mix and turn into casserole.

Mix bread crumbs, melted butter, parmesan cheese and parsley and sprinkle on top.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

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  1. Hey, I am all for bribing the judges...throw in some of those canned peas!

    Seriously, I think it is a looking recipe. I would mincing the onions as fine as possible mysel, if not grate. That is again, with the turkey burger guy in mind, seeing those onions might put him off.

    And I would go with an aged gouda, but not a smoked one. (again I think it would set off the turkey burger guy). Have you considered a mellow cheese like Comte?

    Good luck, sounds like a fun contest. Let us know the results!

    1. I've made a lot of homemade mac n' cheese that needs to appeal to a variety of tastes - I think you're on the right track.

      Here are just a few suggestions: So you know the last guy likes cheddar - some might consider this taboo, but what about the processed american or old english cheddar? It's not spicy, it's pretty bland and boring -the smooth melting quality might remind him of his slightly boring Kraft palate - and you'll still get a good cheese flavor.

      Also, for those girls who like the jarlsberg and gouda (hmm...gouda, my favorite) - could you do 1/4 of a cup of gouda and 1/4 of guyere? Another smooth melting cheese and will give a good hearty slightly nutty quality without negative points from Mr. Late 30's man?

      Also, I'm assuming your panko crumbs are for the topping? To make it slightly crunchy/crusty and delicious? Could you maybe do 1/4 cup of crushed ritz crackers or townhouse crackers (and either decrease the amt of melted butter or keep the same) for the richness flavor? and 1/4 cup of panko crumbs? Or even 1/4 cup of crushed old dutch potato chips? Just a few thoughts.

      Another possibility for the 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese -is to get that tub that is a combo of asiago, parm and romano? Since it is such a small amt - I would think if you use TRUE parmesan -the tang of a real parm might create a face? But a combo of all three might be enough to throw him off and focus on the cheddar aspects while the other 3 judges can sense the flavor coming through?

      Also, what about a few dashes of hot sauce? I know you said he despises spice, but in a quantity like that, the hot sauce would only liven up the other flavors you have going out without Judge #4 even noticing.

      Also, I know if he's bland- probably things like diced tomatos, etc. is out of the question -any thoughts on adding fried pancetta? or adding a few pieces in the crust topping?

      1. Your M&C recipe looks good to me. I'm partial to the addition of muenster cheese.

        Your judge descriptions were a fun read...I could almost hear a "game show" theme playing in my head.

        Good luck!

        1. You folks officially rock btw. Keep the suggestions coming.

          The one response I have thus far is regarding the hot sauce suggestion of snoboardbabe77. The two girls don't like hot stuff along with Mr. Late 30s so that has to be out.

          I *do* think one of the other competitors is going to go with his standard reciepe which I know includes siracha sauce.

          BTW clarification - I accidentally wrote jarlsberg as being the 7 year old's favourite cheese when in reality in is provolone (I believe).

          I think the non-smoked gouda is a go(u)d idea too! :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: elkerette

            Sneak a slice of good old processed american cheese to add to the creaminess. It melts so well and might help it stay smooth.

            in making mac and cheeses using a bechamel I find that the flavor of milder cheeses could get lost so I usually go for a very strongly flavored cheddar. For the same reason, and also cause i love the cheeses, I add Gruyere and parmesan cheese to the bechamel since they are strong nutty cheeses that won't get lost.

            Also, add a small pinch of cayenne to the dry mustard. It definitely won'tbe enough to make it spicy but be a good addition.

          2. I was going to share my story (I did below anyway) and then realized most of your tasters don't do spice...I'm sorry. But for your personal enjoyment anyway, I'll share my Mac fave: Well, I'm not as gourmet as most Chowhounds but I do enjoy making a Chipotle Mac and Cheese. It's got penne, light alfredo sauce, cheddar, monterey jack or a jalepeno jack, the chipotle and it's adobe sauce. the hotter you want the more chipotle. Of course that might not sound fancy but if you have experience and it sounds like you do then just the 'idea' of chipotle mac could be an inspiration...good luck!