this weekend we took our imaginary little delorean back to the 90s for some fruit by the foot, neon accessories, a synchronized skating competition at the town ice rink (what!), and a party in celebration of the only food that i would eat for a bulk of the 90s: macaroni and cheese. even though i totally forgot to wear light-up sneakers and make lisa frank goodie bags, it was fantastic.
i set up a little bar with two kinds of pasta, cheesy roux, mix-ins, and toppings, and had my friends fill up cute mini cocottes before we stuck them in the oven to bake. those who wanted to fully relive the 90s in the form of hot dog mac and cheese with extra cheese and ketchup could (that would be me), and those who scoffed at the hot dog idea and wanted the healthier option of whole wheat pasta, vegetables, a teensy bit of cheese, and a sprinkling of za'atar could (oh hey, eggboy).
while the mac and cheese baked, we had wine and salads and discussed the pros and cons of putting ranch dressing in our mac. have you ever done that?? i'm a new convert, it's so creamy and tangy! however, we did conclude that you can put pretty much anything in a pot of cheese and pasta and you won't really screw it up. except sprinkles. sprinkle mac and cheese might get weird.
here was our menu:
for noshing // a simple mixed greens salad, so we could at least try to be healthy with all of this mac and cheese.
main course // basic cheddar mac and cheese (recipe here)
toppings // cut up hot dogs, broccoli florets, peas, chopped red bell peppers, everything bagel spice, za'atar, gomasio, crushed red pepper, sriracha, ketchup, ranch, breadcrumbs, black pepper, and parmesan.
dessert // fruit by the foot, gushers, fruit roll ups, rice krispie treats :)
to sip // kendall-jackson avant red blend
here are some tips for throwing your own mac + cheese party:
1. go completely crazy with mix-ins. i think next time i'd like to add chopped apples, crushed walnuts for a topping instead of breadcrumbs, bacon, pesto, tater tots... the possibilities have no end!
2. toss your pasta in olive oil so that it doesn't stick together while it's sitting out. this isn't totally necessary if you cook your pasta right before guests arrive, but if you'd like to cook it earlier in the day, toss it in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, let it cool, and then keep it covered and in the fridge until party time.
3. you can prepare your cheese sauce an hour or so in advance. keep it on the stove on low, and stir it often so that a film doesn't form on top. ideally, it's best to keep it on the stove on low even as guests are dishing up, but if you're going to use it immediately and want to have everything set up on one table, you can put it out on a trivet.
5. pre-heat your oven to 375 in time for when guests arrive. i found that baking our little cocottes for 15-20 minutes did the trick. you can certainly turn the broiler on to get some more color on the tops, but i didn't because i am terrified of the broiler.
6. if you don't have mini cocottes or other little oven safe dishes, you can nix the baking step all together. for this route, cook the pasta right before it's time to dish up, and whereas for a baked mac you'd want your pasta pretty al dente, cook your pasta fully so that it's ready to eat.
7. have snacks and drinks ready for while the mac is baking. and keep them on the lighter/healthier side since mac and cheese is so darn filling. (same goes for dessert! save the rich chocolate cake for a salad party.)
thanks so much to kendall-jackson for sponsoring this post!!!! all opinions are my own!!