The Cheesecake Factory's Fried Mac and Cheese Balls:
Have you ever been to the Cheesecake Factory? If you do go, you have GOT to get their fried mac and cheese balls. Now I know what you're thinking: Why in the world would I go to the Cheesecake Factory and waste my money on some fried cheese? You have got to believe me when I say that these are not just any fried mac and cheese balls...they're fried mac and cheese balls from heaven. Although it's just an appetizer at the Cheesecake Factory, they're so rich and incredibly tasty that I would totally order it as my meal (it's served as four really big balls, but they're meant to be shared).
So this year, I decided to enter a dish for one of the cooking contests at the State Fair. I know that in order to win, I'd have to make something really, really, really good. I looked online at the contests, and I ended up entering in - not one -, but four. Of all the recipes I entered, these fried mac n cheese balls are definitely my favorite. I entered them in the House Autry Mills Recipe Contest, which required a recipe to have at least one meat or vegetable, and use House Autry Mills Breader. So I decided to make fried mac and cheese, inspired by the Cheesecake Factory. I experimented with some mac and cheese recipes, and my absolute favorite is Martha Stewart's (found here). It's a white mac and cheese, which I prefer over the usual orange cheeses, and it's incredibly delicious. After I mastered that recipe and added chopped spinach (for the vegetable requirement of the contest - and it tastes better with it), I transformed it into these marvelous balls, and deep fried them with House Autry Mills Chicken Breader (as opposed to bread crumbs like the Cheesecake Factory...but we were required to use breader for the contest).
I'm not gonna lie to you: I did not win. But I truly have absolutely NO IDEA why. This is one of the best dishes I have ever had (if not the best)...it's even better than the Cheesecake Factory's! I swear. Cross my heart and hope to die, poke a needle in my eye - whatever. They're so good, that my parents are making me make them every year on Christmas Eve as a tradition for the rest of their lives.
. . . I guess you could say that in our minds: I totally won first place. And I don't need a ribbon to prove that.
Yield: Serves 4-6 (about 2 large balls each)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ¾ cups milk, plus 2 tablespoons for the egg wash
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 ½ cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 ¼ cups grated gruyere cheese
2 cups fresh (dry) spinach, wilted and chopped (it will be much less than 2 cups when wilted)
½ pound elbow macaroni
3 cups House-Autry Mills Chicken Breader
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat milk. Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking constantly, for one minute.
2. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
3. Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cheeses, and spinach. Set the cheese sauce aside.
4. Fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil. Add macaroni and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into reserved cheese sauce. Pour the mac and cheese into a shallow pan and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.
5. Shape the cold mac and cheese into large meatball sized balls and place them onto a waxed paper lined tray. Freeze the balls overnight.
6. Beat the eggs and 2 tablespoons milk together to form an egg wash and pour it into a shallow bowl. Put the breader in another shallow bowl. Remove the mac n cheese balls from the freezer. Dip the frozen balls into the egg wash and then into the breader. Make sure they are completely covered. Put the balls back in the freezer until you are ready to fry.
7. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 350 degrees F. Fry the mac n cheese balls until medium brown and center is hot, about 6 minutes. Serve hot.