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Smoky Mac and Cheese in the Instant Pot

Last week I attended The Grate Canadian Cheese Cook Off - Mac and Cheese edition, hosted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. We got to watch as four Canadian chefs went head to head in an attempt to woo the judges with their unique, elevated interpretations of this classic comfort food.

Top Chef Canada alumni and popular Calgary caterer,  Nicole Gomes, made a really interesting Apple Beer Mac and Cheese that was only narrowly edged out as my favourite by the Smoky Cauli-power Mac & Cheese whipped up by defending champion,Chef Andrew Farrell, Chef de Cuisine at Halifax restaurant, 2 Doors Down. He took top honours in 2014 with his Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese and he looked reluctant to give up his crown.

Chef Thompson Tran ( BC's The Wooden Boat) took the best name with his Cod You Believe It's Shmoked Mac n' Cheese but it was ultimately Toronto's own Chef Alexandra Feswick (The Drake) who stole the trophy out from under Chef Farrell's nose with her Nutty Home Style Mac & Cheese.

Lobster Mac and Cheese 
All four of the entries were rich, creamy, cheesy and delicious and left me obsessed all weekend so nobody was really all that surprised when I cranked this beauty out on Sunday night. Because I am still all about my pressure cooker and I had such great luck with my Lobster Mac and Cheese I have only been making it with the Instant Pot ever since. This time, I skipped the lobster and used mainly smoked gouda with a bit of parmesan and old cheddar for good measure. Double Smoked Bacon, smoky gouda and a bit of beer in place of water.... all the food groups were represented.

Now that I know that we can have a rich, creamy mac and cheese on the table in about as much time as it takes to make Kraft Dinner, this has become a weeknight staple. I make the crispy topping and keep it in the fridge and use the leftovers on pasta throughout the week and it's not like I have ever eaten the leftovers with a spoon or anything. That would be crazy.

Smoky Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese

Serves 4

300g penne
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup beer (I used Beau's Lug Tread)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsl dry mustard
1/2 tsp chili flakes

170 g smoked gouda, grated
20g freshly grated parmesan
30g old cheddar, grated
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup frozen sweet baby peas

Crispy Topping
40g double smoked bacon, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, grated
1.5 tbls butter
1 tsp freeze dried chives
1 cup panko or bread crumbs
15 g grated parmesan

To make the Crispy Bread Topping:
fry the chopped bacon in a small pan until it starts to get crispy. At that point, add in the garlic, stir around for about 30 seconds and then add in the butter and chives. Toss the bread crumbs/panko in the fat , coating evenly and continue to fry the crumbs for another 3 or 4 minutes, until they get nice and brown and crispy. Grate the parmesan over the top and fold in, cooking for another 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To make the mac and cheese:
Mix your grated smoked gouda, cheddar and parmesan in a bowl.
Put the penne, the water, beer, salt, dry mustard and chili flake in the pot of your pressure cooker and cook for 5 minutes, high pressure*. When the time is up, do a quick release, hit cancel and then hit sauté. Bring the water and pasta to a simmer, add in the frozen peas and pour in the evaporated milk and milk. Simmer for about 3 minutes and then turn off the cooker. Remove the pot and start to stir in the cheeses a handful at a time, stirring constantly until it's all in and melted and creamy.

Ladle the mac and cheese out into bowl and top each bowl with a generous handful of the crispy bread topping.

*because I used a heartier pasta, the five minute timing was perfect. If you are going to use small macaroni, I would go down to 4 minutes

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