*Blog post sponsored by Annie’s Homegrown.
Hello, my friends! I’m REALLY excited to share this week’s blog post with you. It’s pretty epic, even for Miss Cheesemonger. Recently, Annie’s Homegrown contacted me about blogging about their boxed macaroni and cheese, and I jumped at the chance. When I was a kid, I LOVED Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar, the brand’s classic mac. I loved that it’s free from artificial flavors, synthetic colors, and preservatives–like all of their products, and I REALLY loved the real cheesy flavor. I’d make a box after coming home from school all the time, adding extra cheese, of course!
For this, M. Cheesemonger and I really wanted to make something unique for our friends using Annie’s as the foundation. For a group of eight, we decided to prepare a mac ‘n’ cheese feast on the grill with gourmet add-ins like baby bella mushrooms and smoked spicy Italian sausage from our local butcher shop. The most important thing we’ve learned about cooking: high quality ingredients yield the most delicious food, so we got the best quality products we could find.
As an ode to the SF Bay Area, where Annie’s Homegrown is actually based (they’re just down the street in Berkeley!) we chose Mt. Tamalpais State Park as our location, one of the most gorgeous natural spaces around the city.
Just before leaving for Mt. Tam, we cooked 7 boxes of Annie’s shells on the stove, tossing in a small knob of butter after draining them so the shells wouldn’t stick to each other (In the end, though, I think we only used the equivalent of 6 boxes of pasta.). We made sure to bring the cheese packets with us.
Once at the park (at Bootjack Camp), we got prepping. We sliced baby bella mushrooms, grated a plateful of medium sharp cheddar, chopped garlic, and started the fire (don’t worry, there’s a recipe below!!). M. Cheesemonger had bought some extra chorizo in addition to the smoked Italian sausage, so he had a lot to handle on the grill before we even got to the mac ‘n’ cheese .
Everyone brought something to the picnic, so there was PLENTY of food. And how was the pièce de résistance? It was perfect!! We couldn’t stop eating it! The extra cheese gave the dish some extra gooeyness, while the other add-ins made it simultaneously sophisticated and comforting. It was a stick-to-your-ribs sort of dish; we all reported not feeling hungry again until the next day (we began our feast at noon), despite going for a 4-mile climbing hike after lunch.
And what a hike it was! Climbing along the Bootjack trail, you can eventually switch trails to climb to the Mountain Play Theatre, which is a gorgeous open-air theatre. Right now, as it happens, West Side Story is playing, with my friend Paul as Officer Krupke (we acted together in Gilbert + Sullivan’s Ruddygore earlier this year!). The views of San Francisco and the sea from on high are gorgeous when the air is clear, although even with the fog that day, they were still breathtaking. We heard a wild turkey calling in the distance, but didn’t get to see it.
Here’s a rough recipe of our epic picnic macaroni and cheese. Even if you don’t get to prepare it on the grill, it’s still worth making!
MCM’s Epic Picnic Macaroni and Cheese
Prep time: 1.5 hours (that’s what it took us, maybe you’ll be faster!)
6 boxes of Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar, or Shells and Real Aged Cheddar, or a mix of both
4 smoked Italian sausages
8 oz medium sharp cheddar, grated
4 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
2.5 cups whole milk
Special equipment: Dutch oven
Before leaving for your picnic site, cook the pasta for two minutes less than the box states. Stop the cooking by rinsing the pasta in cold water. Add a knob of butter to the pasta, and mix. This it to prevent the pasta from clumping as it cools.
At the picnic site:
After starting your barbecue grill, set the sausages to cook. Once they are cooked, remove them, roughly chop them, then set them aside.
As sausages are cooking, slice the baby bella mushrooms, grate the cheddar if not already grated, chop the garlic. If including parsley, chop it finely.
Preheat the Dutch oven by setting it over the grill. When it is hot, add the butter, then garlic. Sauté the garlic for a minute, then add the mushrooms. Stir and let the mushrooms cook covered for about 5 minutes.
Add the milk, and stir occasionally for several minutes, until the milk is almost bubbling. Add the grated cheese and cheese sauce packets.
Stir in the pasta, making sure the shells are evenly coated with cheese mixture.
Stir in the sausage. Cover the Dutch oven for a couple minutes to allow the flavors to meld and everything to reach a uniform temperature.
Add the parsley just before serving. ENJOY EVERY LAST BITE!
*This post was sponsored by Annie’s Homegrown. I received free product and payment to write this. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
It’s my work to create great content for you. Do you love what you see? Here is how you can support me:
HIRE ME! Let me bring your food projects, business, and products to life. Image may not be everything, but a great one sure helps—Let’s create something beautiful together! See my food photography portfolio. Or see my portrait portfolio for portrait and candid work. Contact me to start brainstorming!
BUY through my affiliate account links at Amazon.com (where you can get nearly anything under the sun), the French Farm (where you can find delicious and beautiful French products for the kitchen, and get free shipping for orders over $75), and Taza Chocolate (maker of some of my favorite Mexican-style chocolates). Bookmark these links for later! You can purchase anything through them, not just what I recommend to you, and I will receive a small percentage of those sales at no extra cost to you! Everybody wins!