Whether you’re hosting a game day get-together, a birthday party, or you’re just trying to feed a crowd of relatives, a macaroni and cheese bar is an uniquely fun way to keep everyone full and happy. Plus, with so many flavor combinations to create, everyone gets to play chef as they build their own personal bowls.
What You’ll Need
A macaroni and cheese bar can consist of virtually anything you want. Love seafood? Shrimp makes a fantastic pasta topping. Hosting a vegetarian-only crowd? Bring on the roasted cauliflower and broccoli. The only hard and fast rule to this DIY food spread is this: you gotta start with macaroni and cheese.
To start, you’ll need to make a hearty amount of macaroni and cheese. You can make your mac ahead of the party and keep it warm all evening long by storing it in a slow-cooker on a low warm heat. Your biggest hurdle is going to be keeping the macaroni and cheese creamy. The solution to avoiding solidified noodles is knowing that cheese to use. For long-lasting creaminess, make a recipe that uses Velveeta™ cheese product rather than regular shredded cheese. Cheddar, even when kept hot, will congeal quickly and make your mac and cheese less creamy and harder to scoop. Don’t feel like you need to relegate yourself to macaroni noodles, either. Change it up with a cavatappi or penne noodle for added fanciness!
When it comes to the toppings, the sky’s the limit. Here are some ideas for what to include on your mac and cheese bar:
- Proteins: Cooked and cubed ham, bits of bacon, pepperoni, shredded chicken and even hot dogs all taste great buried in cheesy noodles.
- Herbs and veggies: Bring life to your pasta bowls by providing chopped, fresh vegetables and herbs. Bell peppers, mushrooms, baby spinach and red onion are great options for veg, while cilantro, parsley, green onion and basil make fantastic herb toppers. Oven-roasted veggies will give a depth of flavor, while briney foods like olives and capers will provide a much-needed punch.
- Sauces: Be sure to provide a few bottles of macaroni-complimenting sauces, such as sriracha, barbecue sauce, salsa, pico de gallo or even ketchup.
- Something crunchy: A contrasting texture will allow your guests to create a balanced bowl. Breadcrumbs and croutons are a fast, tasty way to deliver that crunch.
- More cheese: What goes well with cheese? Even more cheese, duh. Feta, shaved Parmesan and shredded cheddar can take a bowl from average to over-the-top.
Once we started thinking about all the ways you could make a pasta bowl, we couldn’t help ourselves—we started coming up with combinations of our own. Here are a few Tablespoon editor-approved mashups:
We’re calling this the Greek bowl. With the addition of feta cheese crumbles, a variety of olives and fresh baby spinach, you’ve got yourself a mouth-watering Mediterranean combo.
Roasted vegetables and pasta belong together. Don’t believe us? What if we add bacon to the pile? We tossed chopped broccoli in olive oil, salt and pepper, then baked it at 425º for about 20 minutes to make it nice and crispy. We then added that to our mac and cheese with chopped cooked bacon and flakes of parmesan cheese. It’s a divine combination.
Sun-dried tomatoes bring texture and depth of flavor wherever they go. Pair them with thinly sliced mushroom and some fresh parsley. Baby spinach would also be a fantastic addition to this bowl, as would chicken!
Green onions and ham, yes ma’am! This bowl is the grown-up version of the mac and cheese hot dog bowl, sprinkled in crunchy bread crumbs and garnished with green onion slices.