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The reason I decided to name this homemade Mac and Cheese “Christmastime Mac and Cheese” is because once I added a couple of jars of sun-dried tomatoes and fresh thyme, the red and green from the tomatoes and thyme really showed through and it looked pretty enough to serve for a get together near the Christmas Holiday.

Last night I hosted a party that I look forward to hosting each and every year. I bring together my friends from both my bookclubs and we have a book and ornament exchange. I ask everyone to bring a new book and an ornament for our gift exchange. I am in two bookclubs, one is my neighborhood book club, called “Neighborhood Book Club” that my lovely neighbor and good friend, Laura, started with me. Several years ago, we walked around the neighborhood with flyers inviting people to join in our new bookclub. We’ve been enjoying getting together every month to discuss books from all different genres … mostly fiction – historical fiction seems to be popular with our group. We also enjoy non-fiction, a biography once in a while, and sometimes humor. Our discussions are always really good and we love to read mostly anything. We can always rely on our sweet friend, Lauren, to bring questions that she’s researched and printed out. She is fabulous for doing that! Lauren’s birthday is actually today. Happy, Happy Birthday Lauren! I hope you are having the most lovely of birthdays, you deserve a day as wonderful as you. Lauren is so very stylish and pretty. I love her sense of style and her personality is truly the best.  I really look forward to getting together with my friends in neighborhood book club every month. It is my favorite night. Next month, we are meeting at Naomi’s. She has chosen “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. I remember a hairdresser I had years ago telling me that was one of her favorite books. I’m looking forward to the read and I better get started.

My other book club is now named “The Book Club, Non-Book Club, Yak, Chat, Social Club” and was formed by myself and my very good friend, Azita. This group includes Moms from the elementary school our kids had gone to together since kindergarten. They are all graduating high school in June, so we have been friends for a very long time. We don’t always discuss the book, since we have so much to talk about in general and that is why we are now known as “The Book Club, Non-Book Club, Yak, Chat, Social Club”. We do still pick a book and those of us that want to read it will, those that don’t, don’t. No biggie, we’re not strict. We just like to be together to just laugh, chat and hang out.

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Standing: Me, Azita, Marie, Jen, Lauren, Deanna, Naomi, Julie, JoAnne, Sandy
Sitting: Laura, Nancy, Kelly, Jen, Pam, Ethel

Most of us are here, but we are missing a few of our friends that couldn’t make it. We definitely missed those that couldn’t be here last night.

I usually make some type of pasta for dinner and serve it with a salad and bread. Of course there are appetizers, dessert, and plenty of wine to complete the festive evening as we all gather together to ring in the season with friends, old and new.

I made homemade Mac and cheese using cavatappi noodles – I think they are a bit fancier than elbow macaroni and I like the evening to be a little elegant. For the cheeses, I chose a swiss/gruyere blend, sharp cheddar and blue cheese crumbles.

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I added two jars of sun-dried tomatoes and fresh thyme. I drained the sun-dried tomatoes before adding them, but I allowed a little bit of the oil to make it’s way into my pasta. This turned out to be a great idea because the herbs that were in the oil coated my pasta a bit, giving it even more of that festive, Christmas look I was hoping for in my pasta.

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I sprinkled panko bread crumbs dotted with small pieces of butter and more fresh thyme before baking my dish. I actually prepared the macaroni and cheese the day before my party so I could focus on the smaller things on party day. (Like taking a walk with my dear, sweet friend, Ethel. We walked Remington to make sure he was a bit tired on party night. Thank you so much, Ethel, for always being there for our walks at the park. I look forward to them every week – this week two times, lucky us!)

I made two dishes of macaroni and cheese for our group.

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Macaroni and Cheeses after preparing and before placing in the refrigerator for the night.

Once I pulled them out of the oven they were perfectly browned.

I also made a ciabatta garlic bread. I brushed melted butter on both halves of the bread before sprinkling several cloves of fresh minced garlic, fresh chopped rosemary, and a pinch of kosher salt (I always use unsalted butter).

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I prepared this the day before the party as well. I made two loaves of the bread.

This is how the bread looked after baking for 25 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

I found this fabulous platter at Home Goods a few days before my party and thought it would be perfect to serve my bread on.

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For a salad, I used romaine lettuce and topped it with nothing more than the fabulous parmesan cheese that I blogged about last week. It’s a wonderful parmesan that our friends, Kent and Jen, order in from Italy. If you saw that post, it was about the wonderful party Kent and Jen host every November. It is the best parmesan cheese you’ll ever have, it’s so good! I couldn’t resist having a salad last night with just that cheese and some dried cranberries. As for the dressing, I used Trader Joe’s caesar dressing.

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I put out a cheese platter as an appetizer and my friends brought either an appetizer or dessert.

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And as a dessert, I made two batches of brownies. I added candy canes that I had crushed (with my handy dandy metal mallet) to the top.

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I knew my husband, Dennis and my daughter, Kylie would appreciate any leftovers on the brownies.

It was such a fun night! I am already looking forward to hosting next year’s book club Holiday party. I wonder what I should make?

This is the fun ornament I received at our ornament/book exchange.

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The funny thing is, I drive a white Beetle Convertible. My sweet friend, Pam, bought this ornament. The best part of it is, we pick names for who will receive the book and ornament we bring. Pam pulled my name, so it was absolutely perfect. Pam is the most fun and lovely young woman, I absolutely adore Pam and I love her sense of style as well. Pam always looks fab! She is turning the big 5-0 on Christmas Day. She’s our Christmas birthday friend. I am really looking forward to celebrating with her and all our friends at her fun party. I best start figuring out what I’m going to wear! It’s a taco truck, 80’s dance party! I can’t wait – woo hoo!! Happy Birthday in advance, sweet Pam! XOXO

Ingredients

  • 1 box Cavatappi noodles
  • 4 cups shredded swiss/gruyere blend
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • 2 jars sun-dried tomatoes, mostly drained
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 for the flour mixture and 2 for topping the panko)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk (I use fat free)
  • 3 teaspoons fresh minced thyme
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil noodles. Heat milk, but don’t boil. Melt butter in large sauce pan and add flour. Whisk for about two minutes. Slowly add hot milk and whisk for another minute. Stir until thickened, a few minutes. Turn off the heat and add the shredded cheeses. Stir until cheese has melted.

Pour noodles into a 9×13 baking dish and add sun-dried tomatoes and 2 teaspoons thyme, mixing in with the noodles. Add cheese sauce to noodles. Top with panko and cut up pieces of butter. Add third teaspoon of thyme.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until bubbly and hot. Enjoy!

Until next time, Kris