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Gluten Free Mac ‘n Cheese: Christmas Party at the Horse Barn

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Well, isn’t that post title truly an example of words that you’d never expect to see together! My daughters ride horses, and so when the trainer holds a Christmas party, it just seems to make sense to have it at the barn!

As those who are gluten intolerant can appreciate, one can never be confident that foods at a holiday party are going to be safe to eat. I have entertained for decades, (oh, I hope that doesn’t date me too much!) and I can say with confidence that most parties tend to be rather unfriendly environments for those who cannot do wheat or gluten. (*2014 update: Things are slowly becoming more GF friendly!) Whether it’s potluck or cocktail party, there are loads of crackers, breads, pasta, tortillas, and hidden flour in many dips, chips and casseroles. I cannot emphasize this point enough: a potluck table is a dangerous place for those GF. We discovered quite belatedly, that the lovely ‘Stewed Apples’ a woman brought contained hidden gluten in it. After asking her for the recipe, she said she used Stouffers as the base. Here I was thinking to myself, stewed apples, cinnamon and dried cranberries, how can that have gluten? Shortly thereafter, my daughter had a reaction and I went online to check. Guess what? Stouffers Harvest Apples has wheat in it. Who’da thunk? You’d think the two of us would have learned better by now!

Back to the point, when you have dietary issues, it’s smart offer to bring something, and I tend to bring/send both a main dish as well as a dessert that is safe. I want my daughter to be able to enjoy herself. It’s hard enough being a teenager where pizza parties reign, and having to sit by and watch while they eat, so I make the extra effort to always send something for her to enjoy. Plus, I ensure it’s tasty enough that my daughter isn’t the only one digging in.

Today with temperatures being in the 20’s here, I decided to bring Macaroni & Cheese. One of my favorite versions is from the Cook’s Illustrated Family Cookbook. You can trust from Cook’s that the recipe will turn out the way they describe.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a pantry cook. I do my shopping weekly and pretty much make something based on what is either in my fridge and/or pantry. Then I proceed to modify the recipe based on what I have on hand. Today, I had on hand some sharp cheddar, jack cheese, a little havarti and swiss. Altogether it was close to the amount of cheese called for in the recipe. I used lactose free milk and substituted the pasta for my favorite brand of GF noodles – Tinkyada (Penne) Noodles. The Tinkyada holds up magnificently in cooking and just refuses to get soggy. Use whatever brand works for you, but make sure to not over cook the noodles and rinse them fully, or when you bake them in the cheese sauce you’ll end up with cheese flavored wallpaper paste, most certainly not the desired result.

*This will look ‘loose’ when you put it in the oven. That is ok, it will tighten up while baking. Do not add more noodles or it will turn out dry.

This has been a regular favorite in our family. I hope you enjoy it also.

Macaroni & Cheese (gluten free)

8 tbsp Unsalted Butter (you will use 2 tbsp melted to toss with the breadcrumbs)

2 cups Breadcrumbs (I pulse GF bread in a food processor to make my own)

1 lb Macaroni Noodles (We use GF)

1 Garlic Clove, minced or put through a press

1 tsp Dried Mustard, reconstituted in 1 tsp water

1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper

6 tbsp Gluten Free Flour (You can use regular wheat flour, I use Pamelas GF Artisan Flour)

3.5 cups Whole Milk (I used lactose free, please use whole or add cream to make your low-fat whole. This is mac n cheese for goodness sake, it’s not a diet dish!)

1.75 cups Low-Sodium Chicken Broth

1 lb colby cheese & 8 ounces of extra sharp cheddar (I used what I had on hand, see above. I really feel it’s up to you. If this were not for a potluck, I’d have added pepper jack!)

Preheat your oven to 400 deg

Mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and set aside.

Boil your pasta till a dente. Drain, and rinse thoroughly. While the pasta is cooking (I’m all about time efficiency. Turn the oven on, get the water boiling, and start your sauce…)

To make the cheese sauce:

1. Melt the 6 tbsp of butter, add the garlic, mustard and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.
2. Add the flour, whisking till smooth and well combined. I cook it about a minute to make sure there is no ‘flour’ taste.
3. Slowly add the milk and chicken broth, whisking constantly to keep from clumping. Cook it about 6 minutes until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add your cheese, still whisking to keep from clumping. 4. Add your well drained noodles, and gently fold together until well combined. (Don’t panic if it seems overly soupy. I have done exactly that, trying to spoon off some of the ‘excess’, only to have a dry dish in the end. Leave it and it will remain creamy and yummy if you don’t panic!)

Pour in to a 13×9 baking dish, top with the buttered bread crumb and bake for about 25-30 mins until bubbly and topping is well-browned.

Let sit for 10 minutes before enjoying. And then…..ENJOY!

ps) This may not be the most artistic photo, but I took it at the barn with my smart phone. As you can see, it had been 1/2 devoured and we came late after most had already eaten. Yes, it really is that good! One more tip: I have a gel pack that is microwavable which I put under the casserole dish to keep it hot. If you can find one and live in a climate like mine, I highly recommend. No power source needed!)

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