I'm just a busy wife and mom who loves to cook (and hates to clean up afterward), balancing the many hats I wear and trying to look cool, calm, and collected while doing it...

Oh, and I rarely measure anything when I cook, so consider yourself warned. Love good food. Try new things. Eat to your heart's content.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Beer Cheese and Bratwurst Mac & Cheese


Ahhh, you smell that?


Autumn in the air.

Apples. Pumpkin flavored everything. Caramel deliciousness.

Also, Oktoberfest!

I think many are surprised to know that it actually happens in September, usually ringing in the crisp, cool, autumn weather. (Unless you live in Southern California like me, and the weather feels like a cruel continuation of the worst Summer EVER! It's STILL 80 degrees INSIDE my house as I type this! But hey, any excuse for good beer and sausage, yes?)

Here in the North County part of San Diego, we have lots of amazing restaurants, and one of our favorites a town over from us in San Marcos is Sublime Ale House, which specializes in gourmet mac & cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. They also have a FABULOUS beer cheese soup, which is where I found inspiration for this recipe.

This right here might be the ultimate comfort food. It's rich and creamy and delicious, and has quickly become my husband Dave's favorite meal.

This weekend his best friend from his military days, Chris, came to visit for a "guy's weekend". They been playing Diablo 3 on their computers (sitting side by side, just like an episode of The Big Bang Theory.), visiting Golden Coast Mead (which alone is worth the trip down from Oregon! Boozy goodness made from honey, supporting wonderful bees in all their glory? Yes, please!), and doing other guy things. Whatever those things might be. Mostly eating, gaming, and drinking though.

Weeks before Chris even got here, Dave put in his request for this Beer Cheese Mac & Cheese. He's a big fan of my other made-from-scratch mac & cheese, but the first time I made this one, it not only replaced the original, but he now considers it his favorite thing I make.

Now, I don't make this very often. Because even though it's heaven-in-your-mouth delicious, it's super NOT healthy. And also, because it's more work than I like to do for a regular weeknight meal. So I save it for special occasions like birthdays and when friends or family are visiting.

And for Oktoberfest weekend of course!!

Beer Cheese and Bratwurst Mac & Cheese

1 package (5 links) Bratwurst, cooked and diced.
1 Stick of Butter
Around 3-4 Tbsp. All Purpose Flour (I don't measure, but it needs to be enough that it forms a glue-like consistency when added to the butter.)
2 tsp. or so Garlic Salt
Pepper to taste
1 12 oz. bottle of lighter beer, such as Budweiser (Darker beers are delicious to drink while making this, but can overpower everything else if used in the recipe. Stick to the cheap-ish stuff. )
1 8 Oz. Package of Cream Cheese, cut into chunks
1 1/2 C. Fat Free Half and Half (you can use regular, but the fat free is just as good, and saves a few calories.)
1 Lb. PLUS 1 C. Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, hand shredded (pre-shredded leaves this a totally different, weird consistency because of the non-clumping stuff "they" add to it.)
1 Lb. Small Shell or Elbow Pasta, cooked until all the way done (not al dente) and drained.
More salt and pepper, if needed.

Preheat oven to 425.

Cook and dice the bratwurst. Set aside in a bowl lined with paper towels, to drain.

In a large skillet melt the butter, then add the AP flour and cook until well combined, and the consistency of runny-ish glue. Stir in garlic salt and pepper.

Whisk in the bottle of beer. Keep stirring until well combined, and hot.

Whisk in the cream cheese, until melted and combined.

Whisk in the half and half.

When the mixture starts to thicken a bit, start adding the shredded cheese, small handfuls at a time, until combined well, and the cheese isn't stringy anymore, but a thick sauce.

(Now you could stop here, and you'll have the absolute best beer cheese dip for soft preztels or those amazing pretzel rolls from Costco. Perfect for those who like to watch sports in groups, which I don't. Or for movie nights or TV show marathons with a group of friends, which I do happen to love!)

Add the diced bratwurst, then combine with pasta. Taste test and any more salt and pepper, only if needed.

Pour into a 9x13 baking dish, top with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.

Serve with some healthy veggies or a salad to counteract all that cheesiness.