Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ranch Macaroni and Cheese with Tarragon

This is one of the ultimate comfort foods, amped up with powerful ranch flavor, and easily prepared in a slow cooker. When I mention this recipe to friends, I get disgusted looks - I think the first assumption is that I'm taking macaroni and cheese, then mixing in ranch dressing and calling it a meal. The ranch comes instead from packets of ranch powder, bringing a unique set of spices and herbs to a classic dish. Given that, while this isn't exactly a healthy meal, it's not nearly as bad as my friends' first assumptions.

1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 ounces (2 packets) ranch powdered dressing mix
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 cup cubed Colby Jack cheese
1 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
8 ounces sour cream
Grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crushed saltines
Tarragon to top

In a dutch oven, combine milk, butter, dressing mix and spices, then cheeses. Heat over the low setting and stir periodically until the cheese is fully melted. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the macaroni according to the package directions, leaving them a bit al dente - this makes sure the cheese fills all the little holes in the macaroni; if they're overcooked, the shapes may collapse. Drain the macaroni and set aside. Fold sour cream into the cheese sauce, then add saltine crackers and macaroni. Stir together, then cook over low heat until heated through - about 30 minutes. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese, then fresh tarragon. Serves 6-8.

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