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Never-ending quest for perfect mac and cheese

Associated Press

In the last month or so, I’ve had requests from readers to get the mac-n-cheese recipes from The Pit, Shane’s Rib Shack, Beasley’s Chicken and Honey, all in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Durham, North Carolina.

It’s no wonder. Macaroni and cheese is the classic indulgent dish that restaurants do better than home cooks. Most chefs don’t worry about fat or salt content when creating dishes; their main concern is taste. Meanwhile, many home cooks scour ingredient labels or fret about how to cut calories in such a decadent dish.

So I share this gift with our readers: the recipe for the best macaroni and cheese recipe I have ever tasted.

You have my husband to thank for finding it.

My husband, who cooks more than I do, is always on the lookout for good recipes, especially for those served at the holidays or for special occasions. He’s been on a quest to find a go-to macaroni and cheese recipe for several years. For a while, he settled on Patti Labelle’s macaroni and cheese, which apparently made Oprah cry.

Then he stumbled upon this recipe published in 2010 by the Los Angeles Times from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver. With two sticks of butter, two cups of half-and-half and five different cheeses, it is over-the-top good. The crunchy breadcrumb topping is the perfect contrast to the underlying cheesy, gooey goodness.

Before dietitians start sending me hate mail, let me be clear: This is not an everyday dish. It’s a once-in-a-while, celebratory, impress-the-dinner-guests dish.

If you are ever visiting Denver, the Rackhouse Pub still serves it and has added a sixth cheese!

Beer-baked Macaroni and Cheese

Originally printed in Los Angeles Times’ Culinary SOS column in 2010. Recipe adapted from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver. Yields 12-16 servings. Recipe tester’s note: If you are not a fan of blue cheese, omit it and add an extra 1 cup cheddar cheese. The restaurant uses this beer: Railyard Ale from the Wynkoop Brewing Co.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup amber beer

2 cups half-and-half

1/2 pound Brie

16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese

11/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

21/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

11/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 (16-ounce) box penne pasta, cooked and drained

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium, heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a light roux. Slowly whisk in the beer and half and half.

Add the Brie and cream cheese to the sauce, stirring until the cheeses are melted and incorporated. Stir in the Gorgonzola, cheddar and 1 cup Parmesan.

Stir in the pasta, taste and adjust the seasonings as desired with salt and pepper (some of the cheese will be salty and the mixture might need only a little salt, if any).

Pour the mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top by sprinkling over the remaining Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the toppings are crisp and golden, about 1 hour.

Cool slightly before serving.