Macaroni and Cheese Balls

Okay Internet.  I have a confession to make.  It’s about a secret crush I’ve been nurturing for a long time.  We grew up together on the mean streets of Pittsburgh, but I didn’t know what I was feeling at the time, and we sort of lost touch.  But then, in grad school, we reconnected, and it was glorious.  I’m talking, of course, about mac ‘n cheese.

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Portable Mac ‘n cheese.  The new frontier!
In those days, I was a confirmed vegetarian, but I wasn’t so great about eating vegetables (and also needed my meals to fit into a  student budget).  This meant that “vegetarian” often became “pastatarian,” and like any good pastatarian, I made mac ‘n cheese one of my staples.  After all, it fit two of the major food groups into one handy meal.  Of course, this was the neon orange stuff that comes in a box, where the “cheese” really ought to come with quotation marks, but ever since I’ve kept an eye out for good mac ‘n cheese wherever I’ve gone.

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One of these things is not like another…Baked balls on the left, fried on the right

In the years since, I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur, sampling truffle mac ‘n cheese, bacon mac ‘n cheese, even caprese mac ‘n cheese.  It’s possible that nothing will ever top the lobster mac ‘n cheese I had in Denver at a place called Mizuna, but when I got the opportunity to write this post for Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend*, I decided to try making my own.

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The anatomy of a mac ‘n cheese ball. Can you tell which is which?
Here’s the problem with mac ‘n cheese, though.  It’s super messy, and you can’t take it outdoors with you, say on one of the few days of DC summer when the weather is nice (and after the handy repairmen come and take down the wasp nest of doom from the eaves above your balcony).  Luckily, I came up with a solution.  Balls!  These mac ‘n cheese balls fit all the comfort of mac ‘n cheese into a handy, portable form.  It took quite a bit of courage for me to actually cook these things in a vat of hot oil, but they came out gooey and delicious.  Along with some delicious lamb burgers, some tasty four-cheese buns, and a nice juicy watermelon, they made for a perfect romantic picnic.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I can feel another heat wave coming on.  I think I’ll go back indoors and hide until the weather gets cool again.  See you in September?  October?

If you want to keep up with the “30 Days of Outdoor Dining,” follow Land O’Lakes on Twitter at @LandOLakesKtchn or search the hash tag #kitchenplay.

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Dinner of champions-Mac ‘n Cheese Balls, Lamb Burgers with Pesto in Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend Cheese Buns (recipe coming) and Watermelon for dessert.
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Macaroni and Cheese Balls
This macaroni and cheese recipe is a little thicker than what I usually make, but I wanted something that would stand up to frying.  The dried chives really highlighted the combination of the American, Asiago, Romano and Parmesan cheeses.  One other note:  while I’ve always been a bit fry-shy, if you want something special try frying these.  I also experimented with baking a batch, they weren’t as golden brown and were a little less gooey but were still crunchy and delicious.  I have added instructions for both cooking methods below.

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I’m frying, I’m really frying!
Makes: 36 balls.  That’s a lot of mac ‘n cheese, so I stuck a bunch of them in the freezer and cooked them later. They baked up just like the fresh batch making these an easy make ahead appetizer for a party.

Macaroni and cheese
 
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 Tablespoons butter
2 eggs
6 ounces evaporated milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
10 ounces Land O’Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend, shredded
Dried chives, to taste (about 2 teaspoons)

Coating

1 1/2 cup of flour
3 eggs
2 cups of bread crumbs

Instructions
1. Cook the macaroni according to the package directions, drain and return to the pan (off the heat).  Add the 4 T butter and stir to combine. 

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs, 6 oz evaporated milk, 1 t salt, and pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the macaroni. 

3. Place the saucepan on the burner on low.  Then add the 10 oz Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend and chives, stirring until the cheese melts and becomes creamy, about 3 minutes.
 
4.  Take the mac ‘n cheese off the heat and let it cool until the cheese sauce thickens significantly and you can make balls easily by hand without them falling apart.

5. While you are waiting for the cheese to set up, set up three bowls in a row.  Put 1 1/2 c flour in the first bowl, 3 eggs in the middle and 2 c bread crumbs in the last bowl.

6. Take a small spoonful of mac ‘n cheese and place in the middle of a piece of saran wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to squeeze the mac ‘n cheese tightly to form a ball.

7. Take the ball out of the plastic wrap and dunk into the flour, then into the egg, and finally into the breadcrumbs.  Repeat until the mac ‘n cheese is used up.  Gently squeeze the balls as you are moving them between bowls to help maintain their shape. 

If you are frying:
8.  Pour enough oil into a large saucepan (I used a 4qt pan) to cover the balls (about 3 inches deep).  Heat on medium until the temperature reaches 350 degrees.

9. Once the oil is ready, place as many balls as you can into the hot oil,without crowding the pan.  Cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove with metal tongs or metal slotted spoon. Let cool for 2 minutes and eat hot.

If you are baking:
8.  Preheat the oven to 350.

9.  Spread the balls out across the baking sheet and spray each with nonstick spray to promote crispiness

10. Bake for 30 minutes.  Flip the balls at the halfway point.  Let cool for about 2 minutes and eat while hot. 

adapted from Food Network

Serve with easy tomato sauce.

*Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Land O’Lakes as part of the Kitchen PLAY SideCar series. All opinions given are my own.