My favorite way to cook is to take the basics of a recipe and change them around to make my own. Growing up, my parents generally cooked the same things all the time so I learned how to make those things just by watching them, but if I wanted to expand and learn to make all sorts of other yummy meals I had to figure them out myself. I think that tweaking things to make it your own is the easiest way to develop your own set of recipes and yourself as a cook because you've got the basics laid out in front of you, you just need to take it and run with it. I'm now at the point where I just reference my standard cookbooks for temperatures and times of how long to put things in the oven and use my specialty cook ones for ideas.
One cook that I love is Ina Garten (from the Barefoot Contessa Food Network TV show). I'll admit, for some she can be hard to take, but I love french food and I love how she presents everything. So she's one of the shows I like to watch a lot (along with Sandra Lee, Giada De Laurentiis, and Paula Dean). This is a recipe for a more adult version of Mac and Cheese that I have surprisingly found that all the picky eater kids in my family absolutely love. Must be the bacon...
You will need:
* 1 pound cavatappi
* 1 quart milk
* 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided for sauce, and 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) for breadcrumbs
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (2 cups)
* 8 ounces Smoked Gouda cheese, grated (2 cups) (in all honesty, this cheese is the star of this dish. You need at least 8 ounces, but if you put in more, this will only taste better. I recommend going for the biggest block you can find in your store and going from there. I think Trader Joe's has the best for the cheapest price and Whole Foods is over priced, so if you can't go to TJ's then just get it from your regular super market.
* 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/2 pound bacon (this also tastes just as good without the bacon if you don't eat meat)
* 1 1/2 cups fresh potato bread crumbs (4 slices)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Make bacon in a frying pan, and only cook it about half way. When it's done, after letting the bacon cool a little while, chop/rip it up in to little bite sized pieces.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Add the Gruyere, Smoked Gouda, and nutmeg while sauce is on the lowest heat setting. This is the most labor intensive part of the dish and takes the longest because that is a lot of grating. I get my husband to help me with this part because otherwise it would take me almost 2 hours from start to table.
While you're making the sauce, make the pasta according to the box.
Put the macaroni and bacon in to your very large casserole dish. Then add the sauce and stir well.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. You can make the fresh bread crumbs by just putting them into a food processor. It's really important you use fresh bread crumbs because dried ones with or without seasoning ruin the taste and texture. The fresh bread crumbs become really sweet and crispy and dried ones don't absorb the flavors as much. If you don't want to do it, then just skip the step. Don't use the other stuff!!
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.