In The Kitchen: Winter comfort

Mac and Pimento Bites are new twist on old favorite

Macaroni and  Pimento Cheese Bites are an interesting way to jazz up one of America's favorite comfort foods.

Macaroni and Pimento Cheese Bites are an interesting way to jazz up one of America's favorite comfort foods.

Comfort foods have their place. While they may not make star billing on the first meal you cook for your in-laws, the foods we love definitely have room in our kitchens and hearts. The many versions of Mac and Cheese offer quite a collection of tried and true recipes, but these Macaroni and Pimento Cheese Bites give a new twist to our old favorite.

Macaroni and Cheese is one of the most popular of the American “comfort foods.” Kraft now sells more than one million boxes of the Kraft Dinner version of Macaroni & Cheese every day. Meanwhile, this humble dish can be jazzed up with the addition of chopped vegetables, meat, fish or poultry.

Macaroni & Pimento Cheese Bites

1 pkg. (8 oz.) elbow macaroni

3 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup flour

2 cups milk

1 tsp. salt

dash pepper

1 (8 oz.) pkg. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 jar (4 oz.) pimento, drained

1 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

2 large eggs (slightly beaten)

1/2 cup milk

vegetable oil

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Gradually whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk in 2 cups milk and add salt and pepper. Cook, whisking constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheddar cheese and pimento until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in pasta.

Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with plastic wrap, allowing several inches to extend over the edge of the pan. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove macaroni mixture from pan and cut into 1-inch squares.

Stir together breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese in a small dish. Whisk together eggs and 1/2 cup milk in another shallow dish.

Dip macaroni bites in egg mixture and dredge in breadcrumbs. Pour oil to depth of 1 inch in skillet and heat to 350 degrees.

Fry bites in small batches, about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

This dish can also be baked instead of fried. Prepare recipe as directed above and pour mixture into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, skipping the plastic wrap, omitting eggs and 1/2 cup milk. Do not chill the mixture. Stir together the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, and sprinkle over mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Next is a version that can be made in the slow cooker.

Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese

1 package (8 oz.) elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

1 (12 oz. ) can evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 stick butter (melted)

4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

Place cooked macaroni in crock pot that has been coated with non-stick vegetable spray. Add remaining ingredients except 1 cup of the cheese. Mix well.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Cover and cook on low 5 to 6 hours. Do not remove lid or stir until macaroni and cheese has finished cooking.

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