Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon
Growing up, I celebrated the Fourth of July in Maine, but for the past few summers, Logan and I have been rotating Independence Day locations. Last year we went to Maine, so this year we are reprising Logan’s recently created tradition known as “Driggstock.” This event takes place in Driggs, Idaho, a tiny town on the Idaho-Wyoming border where Logan’s parents live during the summer. Their camp is the epitome of rustic charm, and being so close to Teton National Park, there is easy access to pretty much every outdoor activity that you could imagine.Based on this description of Driggs, you’d think I’d be thrilled to spend the Fourth of July here. However, while I am very happy to be in this beautiful place with Logan’s family and friends, there is one thing standing between me and the perfect Independence Day weekend. That “thing” is a little band called Widespread Panic.
If you have not heard of Widespread Panic, I envy you. In brief, they are a jam band from Georgia that has been touring pretty regularly since the late eighties, much to the delight of their legions of loyal, adoring fans. These “Spreadheads” follow Widespread obsessively, and unfortunately, Logan is one of them. Driggstock is a celebration of the three nights of concerts that Widespread will be playing this weekend just down the road in Targhee, Wyoming. Twenty-five of Logan’s closest friends, most of whom are also die-hard Spreadheads, have come from near and far to spend the weekend noodling, fist-pumping, and occasionally crying from the thrill of seeing their very favorite band perform at the base of the Tetons.
In order to give you a deeper understanding of how this weekend will play out, I feel the need to expound upon Logan’s Widespread fanaticism. Early in our courtship, Logan asked me if I had ever heard of Widespread Panic. While I did not know the significance of the question at the time, I told him that I had, in fact, heard of them, and that I’d even been to a few of their concerts. He became very excited, demanding to know the location of these concerts and how I felt about the band. I told him that I liked them. This was true in that I enjoy drinking in fields, which is pretty much what people do at outdoor Widespread concerts. I didn’t know why he was so interested (he was very cagey about his obsession in those early days), but I didn’t give it too much thought.
After attending the first Driggstock in 2011, I started to realize that Logan was more than merely a “fan of Widespread.” Each day he would experience a moderate to severe level of anxiety, usually accompanied by a stomachache. He and his friends referred to this affliction as “pre-show jitters,” derived from the sheer level of excitement they feel about “watching the boys jam.” I found this strange, yet mildly endearing, and attending my first shows with Logan was actually quite entertaining. I’d never seen him that happy, not even while eating barbecue. At the time, I thought it was cute.
After Driggstock, Logan and I went on our inaugural camping adventure, which provided me with even deeper insight into his Widespread-loving psyche. Listening to the radio in the car was a novelty for Logan, who had been jamming to Widespread with near exclusivity since high school, and it was as if I was introducing him to pop music for the very first time. He seemed disoriented and confused by the sounds coming out of the car speakers, and he obviously had no idea who any of the artists were. I remember making a comment about a Rihanna song, and his response was, “Rihanna? Didn’t she die in a plane crash?” Enough said.
Despite briefly observing Logan in his Widespread habitat that first summer, I don’t think the extent of his obsession truly sank in until I moved back from Paris and we became roommates. Logan’s apartment had framed Panic artwork on the walls, Driggstock dishware, a ridiculous amount of clothing and hats that he and his fellow Spreadheads had designed specifically for various concerts over the past decade, and an entire drawer of Widespread-themed koozies. All the Widespread paraphernalia started to literally make me panic. Misreading my fear for jealousy, Logan assured me that he “loved me more than Widespread.” He is thoughtful like that.
By some grace of God, Widespread Panic went on hiatus for a while last year (best seven months ever!), but they are back on the road and so is Logan. He’s been to fifteen shows this spring, and he shows no sign of stopping. In fact, he’s already been to four shows this week. If nothing else, you have to admire the Dude’s dedication.
I have told Logan several times that perhaps he could take it down a notch in the Widespread department, since I’m slightly worried about his sanity and brain cell retention in the long run. I’ve also tried to lovingly express the fact that his attachment to Widespread frustrates me, but he tends to miss my point, as demonstrated by statements like, “I’m sorry! I’ll take you to ten Justin Beiber shows!!” (While that doesn’t actually interest me, I might just take him up on the offer because I find the image of Logan at a Beiber concert very amusing.) Luckily, he has promised me that he is not going to continue with this Widespread “thing” indefinitely. I believe his exact words were, “Obviously, I’m not going to do this forever! Only for like the next ten years!” Such a relief.
Lest you think that I didn’t make a serious effort to hop on the Widespread Panic bandwagon, I have attended eleven shows in various cities over the past two years. However, despite the improvement in my noodling skills and hippie outfits, I just don’t get it. Much to Logan’s disappointment, I still can’t tell when one song ends and another one starts, and I refuse to call other Panic-enthusiasts “brother” or “sister” as is the Spreadhead custom. It creeps me out.Luckily, in the past two and half years, I have gone through the first four stages of grief regarding Logan’s Widespread addiction (denial was a doozy), and I finally feel like I’ve reached acceptance. In the spirit of acceptance, I am thrilled for Logan that Saturday will be his 100th Widespread show. That said, if I seem to fall back into the anger or depression stages at any point this weekend, I’ll be in the corner, elbows deep in Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon.
I swear this mac and cheese has magical powers. I’m actually shocked that I haven’t shared this recipe yet, since it has kind of become my signature. This is not a classy dish, it is not Dude Diet approved, and it’s certainly not an everyday staple, but it is unbelievably, devastatingly delicious. Eating this mac and cheese inevitably leads to one of those blissful food moments, where you forget about everything except the awesomeness in your mouth.
The best thing about Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon is that it’s trashy in all the right ways. I’m all for fancy mac and cheese, but nothing will ever beat the classic combo of cheddar and straight-up American cheese. I used cavatappi pasta in this recipe because it’s bigger and heartier than traditional elbow macaroni, and it stands up well to the incredibly thick and creamy cheese sauce. Obviously, a sizeable amount of crispy bacon is a crowd-pleaser, and the chipotles give this mac and cheese a slightly sweet and smoky heat.
My personal favorite aspect of this sexy mac and cheese is the topping. Instead of your traditional breadcrumbs, I covered it with crushed up barbecue Pop Chips. (Trashy!) Not only do they add extra flavor, the textural element is pretty unbeatable. The combination of crunchy chips and creamy cheese is practically mind-blowing. I’m sure you have lots of barbecues/festivities to attend this holiday weekend, and you’re going to want to be the person that shows up with Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon. This may be my most compliment-worthy recipe yet.
Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon: (Serves 12)
1 rasher bacon (8 ounces)
1 pound cavatappi pasta
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup flour
2½ cups 2% milk
½ cup half and half
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided (I like to use a blend of mild and half sharp cheddar, but it’s up to you)
4 slices American cheese
3 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
2 tablespoons adobo (from the chipotle pepper can)
2 oz barbecue flavored Pop Chips (or barbecue potato chips of your choice), crushed
Preparing your Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Bacon:
-Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. When cool, crumble bacon into small pieces and set aside.
-Cook the cavatappi in boiling salted water for 6 minutes. It should be al dente (aka still slightly firm). Strain the pasta and run it under cold water to prevent it from sticking together.
-Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
-Now it’s time to make the badass cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan/pot over medium heat. When melted, whisk in the flour. Allow the roux (this is the fancy name for the butter-flour mixture) to cook for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly, until golden and bubbly.
-Slowly add the milk and half and half and allow it to simmer, whisking constantly until thickened. Don’t freak out if it doesn’t thicken right away. It can take up to 8 minutes, okay? Your sauce should now be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
-Reduce the heat to low and slowly mix in 2 cups of the cheddar cheese and the American cheese.
-When all of the cheese is incorporated, mix in the chopped chipotles, adobo sauce, and crumbled bacon.
-Add the cavatappi to the cheese sauce and mix until the pasta is coated. Pour your mac and cheese into a skillet/backing pan/cake pan/whatever you have available. (You’ll need something at least 10-inches in diameter.)
-Top the mac and cheese with the remaining cup of shredded cheddar.
-Place the Pop Chips (or barbecue chips of your choice) into a large Ziploc Bag and crush them into small pieces with your hands. Pour the crushed chips in an even layer over the cheese.
-Transfer the mac and cheese to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot and get weird.
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