Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Caramelized Onions by Julia's Album

Mac 'n' cheese is probably the ultimate kid food, but Julia of Julia's Album, our latest Shine Supper Club winner, took home May's prize with a rendition that adults can get excited about. Loaded with bacon, caramelized onions, classic Cheddar and grown-up Gruyere, her's is a dish that remakes a childhood classic for more sophisticated palates (recipe below). We asked Julia to spill on our usual questions:

What ingredient are you currently obsessed with? 

Fresh salmon! There are tons of different and easy ways to prepare salmon, and it’s perfect for weeknight dinners on busy days. Plus, salmon is packed with high-quality proteins and omega-3's, and it will keep you full. My current favorite is a broiled salmon with mango salsa––a great way to use all those mangoes and fresh pineapple that you see at the market this time of the year. Another popular ingredient in my kitchen is cauliflower. I really like using cauliflower-based creamy pasta sauce as a healthy alternative to the traditional Alfredo sauce: the texture and the flavor are amazing, and the calorie count is pretty low.  And it looks like a real Alfredo sauce!

Favorite food memory? 

When I was a kid, I loved homemade pies made with sour cherries fresh from our family’s garden. During the summer, my twin sister and I also loved to pit huge amounts of cherries, which our parents then used to make and can our own cherry jam and tart cherry preserves to be enjoyed throughout the year.

What's your go-to easy dinner?

Right now, it is a blackened white fish with tropical fruit salsa. Healthy, low-calorie, low-carb and gluten-free! It tastes very refreshing - like a fruit salad. This is a truly well-rounded dish: full of anti-oxidants, fiber, fruit, vegetables, protein and healthy fats. And it looks so pretty and colorful on the plate. If you crave some carbs, you can add rice or quinoa
Ketchup or mustard? 

Mustard wins. Especially if it’s black truffle mustard: it’s wonderful in a potato salad or with sausage.   

Who would be the ideal dinner party guests (living or dead)? 

My friends and family are scattered all over the world, and I would be happy beyond my dreams to gather them all in one place.  We would cook our old favorites; have lots of wine and talk late into the night.   I love Anthony Bourdain’s show, and he would make an ideal guest, with all his international travel and food experience. He has one of the most fun jobs in the world! I would also love to spend time with Deb from Smitten Kitchen – she has such a great writing style, and her newest cookbook is currently my favorite bedtime reading. I would also invite Martha Stewart: I love reading her personal blog, where she talks about her travels (domestically and internationally), her garden and the farm, etc. – all stories accompanied by great photos.  I would also invite all 6 friends from the Friends TV show, Daniel Craig, and Harrison Ford (my dad bears a striking resemblance to him!).  Having both James Bond and Indiana Jones at the same party would be beyond fantastic!  I would also love to be transported back in time tomeet Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas. etc. - similar to what happens to Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. I love that movie!  

It's your last meal. What's on the menu?

Italian Osso Buco
made with braised veal shanks and veggies on top of a very creamy mascarpone cheese polenta. And, of course, my two favorites for a dessert: Summer bundt cake full of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries and an apple tarte tatin.

Curious about the Supper Club? Join us!

Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Caramelized Onions
from Julia's Album
Prep time: 50 min
Makes 4 servings

This mac and cheese can be served as is, or as a side dish to the steak, which is how I like it!

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 onions, medium or large, sliced
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
8 strips of bacon (prosciutto or pancetta)
8 oz elbow pasta
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup to 2/3 cup milk (or more – for more or less creaminess)
1 cup freshly shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Gruyere
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more – to taste)
cayenne pepper, to taste
a pinch of paprika, to taste

1) To caramelize onions: heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on high heat in a large skillet, when oil is heated, add sliced onions and cook on high heat for about 10 minutes, constantly stirring with spatula. The onions should start to brown, but without burning (a couple of onions may be burnt here and there, but overall they should not be charred). Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking onions for 10 more minutes, continuing to stir, as onions brown even more without burning. At this point add just a pinch of salt over onions. Continue cooking for 10 more minutes on medium or low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure onions don’t stick to the bottom of the pan or burn. Total you should have cooked onions for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle onions with a small amount of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. Using spatula, mix the onions, scraping the bottom of the pan and coating onions with a pinch of balsamic vinegar you just added.

2) While you’re caramelizing the onions, cook bacon: I usually bake it in the oven at 350 until it just turns crispy. Drain the bacon on paper towels and chop into small pieces.

3) Cook elbow macaroni according to package instructions. Rinse the macaroni under cold running water, drain. Set aside.

4) In a large saucepan, add heavy cream, milk, sharp white cheddar cheese, Gruyere cheese and 1/4 teaspoon salt on medium heat, stir and mix, until cheeses start to blend. Add black pepper, Cayenne pepper and paprika to your taste, or omit them if you don’t want them. Add elbow macaroni to the creamy sauce, stir to coat on low heat for about 5-10 minutes until cheeses melt completely and coat the macaroni.

5) Add caramelized onions and chopped bacon to the creamy macaroni.

6) Serve on warm plates (warmed in the oven) as is, or with more cheese (finely grated) sprinkled on top.