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Monday, June 1, 2015

4 State Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Kale and Bacon

Sargento Cheese is hosting the Chopped at Home Contest.  I was asked to take part as a food blogger.  All opinions are my own. #ChoppedAtHome #contest #RealCheesePeople #ad  #sponsored

I'm an at-home cook.  Simple, easy and great tasting...that is my motto.  When Sargento Cheese asked me to take part in their Chopped at Home Contest, I quickly replied YES!

If you haven't seen Chopped on The Food Network, this is how it works.  Contestants are given a basket with four ingredients inside, almost always not relating to each other.  It's a bit of a mystery what will be inside.  They then have to create a dish using these four ingredients.  It's a bit of a challenge!

Imagine putting together something like...salmon, kiwi, peanut butter and green beans.  And making it taste good.  All the while being timed.

Hard stuff!

Today I'm sharing my best Chopped-inspired dish using the ingredients I was given: Sargento® Chef Blends 4 State Cheddar Cheese, kale, bacon and oyster crackers. {By the way, enter your own, here, you could win $10,000!}

Hmmf.  That was my first thought if I want to be honest with you.

My first thought went to soup.  A creamy, cheesy, hearty soup with sauteed kale and crispy bacon.  If only it were Fall.  I just don't crave soup when it is warm.  So I threw that one out the window.

Then my mind went to potato skins.  Crispy, hollowed-out spuds, filled with a creamy, cheesy kale and bacon filling.

I almost made that last one.  But then we had a family funeral to attend which required us to be gone all weekend and the planning for that kinda went out the window.

So when I finally sat down to plan this dish I had about 24 hours before it was due.  And since 98% of kids like some form of noodle and I wanted this dish to be liked by everyone in the family, I went with a classic American mac and cheese.

Sargento® Chef Blends 4 State Cheddar is filled with Sharp Wisconsin Cheddar, Sharp Vermont Cheddar, Sharp New York Cheddar and Mild California Cheddar giving it a complex, full range of delicious flavor.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I snuck a small bite of this cheese before it was melted down into my cheese sauce.  So creamy and flavorful!

I was sincerely happy bacon made the cut, as who doesn't love to garnish with bacon?  It's salty, crispy texture makes any dish just a bit better.  Now, as for kale, I truly feel it pairs well with any cheese - the saltier the better, and when wilted down into this sauce it gives a depth of color and heartiness.

This dish makes a lot and can certainly be stretched into two meals {even my stud of a hub who can EAT left a ton in the pan for the next day}.

We all ate a healthy portion and I'm excited to say we have leftovers!  And honestly, I can say, if the Chopped judges were tasting my dish in real life they would fall in love.  It's a classic fancied-up mac and cheese, yet still appeals to all {even kids!}

4 State Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Kale and Bacon

1 lb. dry elbow macaroni
12 oz. bacon, chopped
2 c. freshly chopped kale
1 c. oyster crackers, crushed
16 oz. Sargento® Chef Blends 4 State Cheddar 
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 c. whole milk
5 T. butter, divided
1/8 c. cornstarch
1 t. pepper
1 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
pinch of cayenne pepper

1.  In a large stock pot over medium heat cook the chopped bacon until crispy.  Drain off most of the fat and place crisp bacon on a paper-toweled lined plate to drain.  In that same stock pot add in the diced onion, garlic and 3 T. of butter and saute until butter is melted and onions are tender.
2.  Meanwhile, in another stock pot cook the elbow macaroni to al dente.  Drain and set aside.
3.  Sprinkle in the cornstarch over the melted butter/onion mixture.  Whisk to combine, cooking for 2-3 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the milk, pepper, salt and cayenne.  Allow for this to thicken, about 5 minutes.
4.  Once thickened, whisk in cheeses.  Then fold in chopped kale and 3/4 of the cooked bacon.  Pour macaroni into a large, 9x13 baking dish.  Top with remaining bacon.
5.  In a small bowl combine the crushed oyster crackers and 2 T. of butter {melted} and garlic powder.  Sprinkle on the top of the macaroni.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees for just 10-15 minutes or until bubbly.

So why not?  Visit Sargento and brainstorm your own ideas.  What would you make with cheese, kale, bacon and oyster crackers?  The options are endless!  I highly encourage you to enter the #ChoppedAtHome Contest.  You can find full contest details here.  Comments submitted may be displayed on other websites by the sponsoring brand.


Available in 30 versatile varieties, unique blends and distinct cuts, Sargento Shredded Cheese is always cut from blocks of 100% real, natural cheese. For more inspiration, check out the Sargento Pinterest page Pinterest.com/sargentocheese/ or visit Sargento.com for more information. The Chopped at Home Challenge gives viewers a chance to create their best recipe using the selected basket ingredients, including Sargento Shredded Cheese, for a chance to win $10,000!
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sargento. The opinions and text are all mine.

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