Blue Ribbon Macaroni and Cheese

28 Feb

 

Did you think Lollipop Tuesdays had died?

They haven’t.  If you’re confused about why Lollipop Tuesdays aren’t every Tuesday anymore (or for that matter, why I don’t post every day), or you don’t even know what a Lollipop Tuesday is, you should probably check out the handy dandy “What’s Lollipop Tuesday?” header at the top of this page.  Now relax and strap in.  Because this week I entered a recipe contest.

As a homegrown mountain gal from Central Pennsyltucky, I felt like even though I’d never entered a cooking contest before, I could at least avoid embarrassing myself.  After all, when you’re raised in the roots cooking is just one part of a three-part formula for the perfect wife that some crazy hermit made up decades ago and is still being widely circulated in small towns with forks in roads: cooking, cleaning, baby-raisin’.  Hunting is optional.  I only ever really took to the cooking.

It also just so happened that the recipe contest was for Macaroni and Cheese, which was convenient since I just had my own Jackie Blog hunt for the Best Macaroni and Cheese in the Universe in December.  So I threw together my favorite parts of my favorite recipes and came up with a Jackie Blog concoction of cheesy awesomey goodness.

I wasn’t really sure what the rules were.  I went online and registered but I didn’t really get anything saying it was received and no one ever sent me criteria.  I didn’t even know what the prizes were.  I just knew that I had to cook up a vat of smokin’ hot mac and smack and take it to the venue by 1pm.  So I designated Dave my Transportation Manager, who threw me and my casserole in the car at 12:40pm and dropped us off while he parked.  With only 5 minutes until the entry deadline, I willed the elevator down with my mind, scurried into the judging room and plopped my casserole down: Entry #11.   It was precisely 1:00pm.

We then proceeded to wait ten full minutes for any late arrivals.    My tale of down-to-the-wire shenanigans weren’t quite as epic as I’d hoped.

Finally, it was time to begin.  We met the judges: 2 owners of 2 prominent food businesses in the city and 1 genuine lover of pasta smothered in cheese.  We also heard the judging criteria: appearance, taste, and-I-have-no-idea-what-else-because-I-was-stuck-on-appearance.

Appearance.

How could I have watched Iron Chef so many times and not have anticipated this as a determining factor?  I should have had a custom-built shelf above my dish that had three beautifully-prepared plates with perfect Macaroni and Cheese portions specifically for the judges.  They should have had firecrackers shooting out of them and have some sort of beautiful font displaying the name of my creation.

But I didn’t.  In fact, I didn’t even remember to bring a serving spoon.   And as my eyes stretched down the rows of the competitors, I saw beautiful thermal Pampered Chef totes, shiny and new casserole dishes that had fancy lids, and classic foil holders with wired burners beneath them.

I had my mother’s hand-me-down casserole dish that she let me borrow once when I was in college and I never returned.

At first I was nervous.  I didn’t consider appearance at all.  And what were the judges supposed to do without a serving spoon: paw it out of the cheesy vat with their bare mits?  Yes.  I decided yes they would.  In fact, I decided that casseroles should only be served in secondhand stolen dishes and reminded myself that I was there to write a blog post, not to impress judges.

Still, I was nervous.  I know this because when the first judge approached my dish and began to fish out a taste of the pasta with her pathetic plastic spoon, I winced as she lost the battle to the broiled parmesan and bread crumb finish, which was settled happily on the top of my concoction.  I grabbed Dave’s arm and clenched it hard as a huge piece of parmesan hung on her spoon and she had to contort her tongue to lap it into her hungry mouth.  I analyzed every nod, every dart of the eyes, every stroke of the pencil on paper.

I had lost.  I surely had  lost.

Dave laughed as my sanity slowly unraveled before him and tried to distract me with Bejeweled on his iPad.  I was sure to pause the game each time a judge approached my dish.   When the judges were finished testing, the audience was allowed to serve themselves buffet style.  I watched to see who took bites of mine and was disappointed when I saw much of my dish remained by the time I reached it.  I returned to my seat and saw a flyer that had been placed in my absence: it was an advertisement for a catering company.

…I was competing against catering companies?

I had talked myself into a deep, dark loss when one fellow jumped up and B-lined to my dish to get himself a hefty helping of seconds.  I was so happy I almost squealed like a freshly born piglet.  I had my victory: someone wanted seconds.  I told myself perhaps I would jest for third place.  That’s when the judges returned and announced there was a tie for first and second and they needed to retaste the top dishes to determine the tie-breaker.   The host of the event promptly walked over and grabbed my mother’s hand-me-down dish.

I freaked.

I freaked so hard that I had little tiny tears in my eyes.  I tried to hold back the excitement from my body but I only bottled it up and shot it out of my eyes like laser beams at poor supportive Dave, who feared me a serial killer and tried to coax the crazy out of my pupils.  It was me versus the Pampered Chef Super Awesome Casserole Tote.  I was so thrilled to have third place locked up.

After what felt like hours of the judges lobbing around more cheesy goodness in their mouths, a winner had finally been determined.

It was me.

I was so surprised to be announced first place that I let out a sort of strange yip in front of everyone and tried to tone it down for a casual walk up to the front to claim my winnings: a gift card and a certificate, deeming my recipe officially award-winning.  The judges looked pleased with the cheesiness I bestowed upon them and the audience all got in line to finish up what was left of casserole #11.

I waited for everyone to get their fill, truly amazed that I had just shown up for a Lollipop Tuesday and taken the top prize from a room full of hopefuls.  I felt like an imposter.  If only they knew it was all for a post.

On the way out of the venue, I called my mom to thank her for raising me right and Dave got a hot dog at the stand outside.  The fella inside asked who won and I said I did.   He asked me what the story was behind it and I explained Lollipop Tuesdays to him and that I run a blog but it’s nowhere close to a food blog.  He seemed pleasantly surprised and for indulging me and acting like he would tune in to read, I tipped him a dollar on the hot dog.

Sometimes you have to pay for publicity.

That night I sat around basking in the phrase “Award Winning”.   I referred to myself as an award-winning cook and my macaroni and cheese as a first-place dish.  And just then I remembered telling my coworkers I was entering a recipe contest that weekend and being laughed at by someone.  They made a joke about Kraft mac and cheese and said I was too young to cook well. I told her she didn’t know the power of being raised in the sticks.

And just then, I took out  my phone to send a proper foot-in-mouth-inducing text.

“Boo yah.”

Signed, First Place Chef. 

Before you ask, here’s the recipe.  Thanks to thesinglecell, who provided most of the recipe for thejackieblog recipe contest:
 
1/2 lb pasta of your choice, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
5 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded
3 oz. Raclette, cubed
1/4c. Parmesan, grated (plus some for sprinkling)
1 3/4c. heavy cream
3/4c. milk
Paprika for sprinkling
Cinnamon for sprinkling
1 cup white bread crumbs cut into 1/2 in. squares
 
Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9×9″ pan (preferably a hand-me-down) with cooking spray. Pour al dente, drained pasta into 9×9″ pan. Melt 1tbs butter and pour over bread crumbs.  Set aside.  Blend flour, mustard and salt together in a small bowl. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 1tbs butter. Add flour, salt and mustard and stir until blended. Add milk and cream, stirring or whisking until dry ingredients are dissolved and liquid is hot, but not boiling. Add Raclette, stirring/whisking occasionally until cheese melts. Repeat for cheddar and Parmesan, stirring/whisking often so the cheese doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.  Sprinkle in cinnamon.
 
Pour cheese sauce over pasta; add bread crumbs and sprinkle with Parmesan and paprika and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Then broil until top is golden.
 
Eat with bare hands.
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29 Responses to “Blue Ribbon Macaroni and Cheese”

  1. Sarah T. February 28, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Jackie, you rock. End of story.

    Plus, if you talk to any cook, well seasoned pots, pans and dishes can make all the difference!
    Congrats!

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      thank you!! 🙂 I think the mom dish made the difference. you know – all those years of loooove.

      Like

  2. Amy February 28, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    I’m impressed! Awesome job! I won a recipe contest one time and it was definitely a booyah moment! 🙂

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who dorks out over it. It was truly unexpected – I thought I’d be ripe with apathy.

      Like

      • Amy March 3, 2012 at 2:00 am #

        I’m a total dork and proud of it! 🙂

        Like

  3. pegoleg February 28, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    Whoo hoo! Way to go! And your casserole dish is perfect – isn’t that pattern called Pennsylvania Dutch? Congrats on trying yet another new thing.

    Hope life is treating you fine. I’ve missed you on the blogosphere, Miss Jackie Blue.

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

      I have no idea on the pattern. If that’s true it’s perfectly appropriate for my rearin’ grounds. But that dish isn’t the actual dish. The actual dish made for a fuzzy and confusing picture so I stole this one from the magical interwebz.

      why you always gotta call me out on things?

      Like

  4. wordsweneversaid February 28, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Ya – you da masta chef….

    Go you, go you, go you!

    **this is where you imitate that touch down dance you always see…**
    (I will want video of that btw)

    Way to go Jackie!

    *prints out recipe*

    M.L.

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      haha thanks – I love a good Jackie chant.

      We might have to wait on the video though. I’m sure you understand.

      Like

  5. lexy3587 February 28, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    That’s awesome! congrats 🙂
    I’m going to have to go home and cook up some of this tasty award winning pasta

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      if you give it a try, let me know if you have any suggestions! 🙂

      Like

  6. Jules February 28, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Grats Jackie. So proud of you!!

    Now I’m hungry. :[

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      make the mac and cheese. go crazy. then run it off. 😛

      Like

  7. Patty February 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    I LOVE the blog. Have been reading it since you were here. The mac and cheese win cracks me up! I am jealous. And as one hick girl to another what is raclette cheese? Can I buy it here in the sticks or do I have to drive 30 or 40 miles to wegman’s?

    Like

    • thesinglecell February 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

      Raclette can be hard to find. I actually do get mine at Wegmans. 🙂

      Like

      • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

        I went to a store that had a “cheese cave”. Very not-central-PAish. But yay for Wegmans having it!

        Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      Thank you! I was wittier in 2011 so you should probably check the back logs 😉

      Like

  8. Samantha February 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Congrats Jackie! I may have to try this macaroni and cheese recipe…it definitely sounds award-winning!

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      Try it! It’s a little pricey though, just so you know. At least for me. It’s not something I’ll be able to do often. If you end up giving it a go, let me know if you have any suggestions.

      Like

  9. mistressofpoetry February 28, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    Awesome! Congrats! I’m so happy for you and feel the excitement you described. I would have done the same thing under the circumstances. And hurray for the little casserole dish that could. 😀 Looks ain’t everything. 😉

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

      apparently that’s still true in the world of casseroles. who knew? 🙂 so glad you can relate to the dorky excitement because I was pretty surprised to find myself so nervous and giddy.

      Like

  10. ML February 29, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    HOLY crap I’m so proud of you 🙂 and also I’m gonna print that recipe so hard…

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      I like how dirty you made it sound.

      Like

  11. pinklea February 29, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Yay you! And just so you know, when you first posted that mac and cheese recipe, I printed it out and I made it and you’re right, it ROCKS!

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      I think it’s pretty fab! Yay thesinglecell for changing my life of macaroni and cheese.

      Like

  12. thesinglecell February 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Glad the mac & cheese is bringing you so much joy!

    Like

    • Jackie March 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

      Joy and a certificate and my mother’s approval. You’ve changed my life 😉

      Like

  13. sanetes March 4, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    Congrats!

    From all the way across the Atlantic this is a hilarious story. I guess only in America can you win a cooking contest with a receipe that reads like the most efficient attempt to combine fat and carbs since the invention of milk chocolate with minimum cooking skill requirements. Not even a salad as side dish to indicate you at least thought about vitamins.

    BTW I love pasta, cheese and chocolate. 😀

    Like

    • Jackie March 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Well it was a *macaroni and cheese* contest 😛 And there was a “healthy” version of the dish there with veggies and such worked in. I didn’t think it was too bad but the judges disagreed..

      Like

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