Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a Garlicky Ritz Cracker Topping for "The Newcomer" By Mary Kay Andrews #TheNewcomerParty

I am very excited to be joining my friends at The Book Club Cookbook, St. Martin's Press and some fellow bloggers for #TheNewcomerParty to celebrate the book birthday of The Newcomer, a new novel by Mary Kay Andrews. We were tasked with reading the book and coming up with a dish inspired by it and so I offer up Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a Garlicky Ritz Cracker Topping. 

Publisher's Blurb:

In trouble and on the run...

After she discovers her sister Tanya dead on the floor of her fashionable New York City townhouse, Letty Carnahan is certain she knows who did it: Tanya’s ex; sleazy real estate entrepreneur Evan Wingfield. Even in the grip of grief and panic Letty heeds her late sister’s warnings: “If anything bad happens to me—it’s Evan. Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me.”

With a trunkful of emotional baggage...

So Letty grabs her sister’s Mercedes and hits the road with her wailing four-year-old niece Maya. Letty is determined to out-run Evan and the law, but run to where? Tanya, a woman with a past shrouded in secrets, left behind a “go-bag” of cash and a big honking diamond ring—but only one clue: a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel in a Florida beach town with the improbable name of Treasure Island. She sheds her old life and checks into an uncertain future at The Murmuring Surf Motel.

The No Vacancy sign is flashing & the sharks are circling...

And that’s the good news. Because The Surf, as the regulars call it, is the winter home of a close-knit flock of retirees and snowbirds who regard this odd-duck newcomer with suspicion and down-right hostility. As Letty settles into the motel’s former storage room, she tries to heal Maya’s heartache and unravel the key to her sister’s shady past, all while dodging the attention of the owner’s dangerously attractive son Joe, who just happens to be a local police detective. Can Letty find romance as well as a room at the inn—or will Joe betray her secrets and put her behind bars? With danger closing in, it’s a race to find the truth and right the wrongs of the past.

St. Martin's Press May 4, 2021
Hardcover 448 pgs

My Review: 
Heading from spring into summer, it's a great time for beach or pool books--those books you want to relax with, outside, on a lazy sunny day. The Newcomer is a great beach book from it's Florida beach town setting to the drama and romance in its pages. Letty is on the run with her young niece after finding her sister dead, keeping her promise to keep Maya away from her father if anything happens to Tanya. A magazine article left in Tanya's "go-bag" has her heading to The Murmuring Surf, a resort hotel a bit past its prime on the Florida coast. There she finds the kind-hearted owner, her suspicious but attractive police detective son, and a bunch of (mostly curmudgeonly) regular hotel guests who aren't too excited about the newcomer in their midst. 
Letty is a great character and easy to root for as I am a sucker for stories where the main character is trying to find their place in the world. Her 4-year-old niece, Maya, is adorable, and the supporting characters are entertaining and added a lightness and humor to the book. The blend of suspense and romance is good, overall--maybe a little too insta-romance between Letty and Joe as he goes from immediately suspicious cop to falling for her and helping her hide. The story is a bit predictable, but there is a certain comfort in that for a summer book--I don't mind not having to think too much. Overall, I enjoyed The Newcomer and it made me realize how long it has been since I delved into one of Mary Kay Andrews' books and how breezy, entertaining, and good fun they are. If you like a little drama and mystery in your romance, pour yourself a cold glass of lemonade or a tart cocktail and enjoy this one by the water.


Author Notes: Mary Kay Andrews is The New York Times bestselling author of The Beach House Cookbook and more than twenty novels, including The Weekenders, Ladies' Night, Spring Fever, Summer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, Hissy Fit, Little Bitty Lies, and Savannah Blues. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

 You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Food Inspiration: 

There are great advantages to reading an #ARC on my Kindle and marking up notes on food so easily but when your Kindle glitches and erases all of said notes when you are 3/4 through the book, it's not so great. Rather than my usual comprehensive list of food mentions, I am going to have to go by memory. At least I had already decided on a dish! OK, there was lots of pizza from the local Italian place, McDonald's take-out, tomato and chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, ham salad sandwiches, carrot sticks, grapes, shrimp, barbecued chicken, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, day-old store-bought roles, fruit and cheese platter, lots of cookies, steamed stone crab claws with a tangy mustard sauce and a crisp green salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spaghetti, chicken fingers, hot dogs, steamed carrots and broccoli,hamburgers and cake and punch among other things. 

"Letty picked at the food on the paper plate. The barbecued chicken had a tangy-sweet sauce, and the lukewarm macaroni and cheese reminded her of Mimi's, cheesy and buttery with a thick oven-browned crumb topping, and the vinegar-brined coleslaw made a nice contrast to the chicken." 

It was the macaroni and cheese that I settled on because it reminded Letty of her grandmother's and it sounded good. From the sounds of it, it was baked and I decided to make a simple creamy version and pump up the crumb topping by using garlic Ritz crackers, mixed with seasoning, melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese.

I made a half batch of this recipe only because I feared I would eat every bite of it if I made a full one. You can alter your cheeses to your favorites of course--just make sure that you grate them yourself so that your sauce is smooth and not gritty..My half-batch made two of my small casserole dishes full so I added the topping and baked one and left the topping off the other and froze it. (Let's see how long it lasts before I yank it out of the freezer and dig in!)


Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a Garlicky Ritz Cracker Topping 
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 8 Servings)
1 lb dried pasta, elbow macaroni or other pasta shape of choice
1 stick butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half 
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
2 cups Velveeta or processed American cheese, cubed
1 cup Gruyere or Gouda, coarsely grated
1 pinch dried mustard 
salt and black pepper
For Topping:
1 sleeve Garlic Ritz Crackers (about 13 crackers)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
pinch black pepper

Cook pasta 1 minute short of package instructions, drain and put into a large mixing bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease your baking dish(es) and set aside. Mix your grated and cubed cheeses in a large bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep saucepan or pot over medium heat. When melted, whisk in flour and continue whisking for 1 to 2 minutes until it turns golden and bubbles. Gradually whisk in the milk and half-and-half until mixture is completely smooth. Continue whisking until bubbles form on the surface and mixture is heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Gradually add cheese to the hot milk mixture, 2 cups at a time, whisking until creamy and smooth each time you add cheese. Sauce should be thick and creamy.  Once all cheese is melted, pour the sauce into the bowl of drained pasta and gently mix until all the pasta is coated in the cheese sauce. Stir in mustard and salt and black pepper to taste. 

Pour macaroni and cheese into prepared baking dish(es).

To make topping: Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Place the Ritz in a large Ziploc bag and crush until small crumbs. Add the shredded Parmesan, melted butter, smoked paprika, garlic seasoning, and pinch of pepper. Mix together in the bag until well combined. 

Sprinkle topping generously over the prepared baking dishes of macaroni and cheese. Bake about 25 - 30 minutes until macaroni and cheese is bubbly and top is golden brown. Serve and enjoy!  

Notes/Results:  What's not to love? Creamy macaroni and cheese that is rich and decadent  and a crispy, buttery, cheesy, garlicky crust. I swear I could just be happy eating the crust by itself. ;-) If you are feeding small children, or vampires, you could use regular Ritz or just serve it as a stove-top macaroni and cheese but to me the topping really makes this dish special. I would happily make it again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event  being hosted by Marg at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader. It's a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. Here's a link to this week's post. 

Check out this link for the #TheNewComerParty at The Book Club Cookbook to see the other bloggers taking part and their delicious recipes!

Mahalo to St. Martin's Press (@stmartinspress) and The Book Club Cookbook for the review copies of the book, and for hosting this fun event. I received no compensation for my participation and, as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.  

Find The Book Club Cookbook here: 

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  1. Great idea! Mac and cheese is already on my mind for tonight -- maybe I'll do some sort of topping and bake it as you describe. My crackers aren't garlic flavor, but I could always crush a clove or two of the real thing, no?

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  2. We had mac and cheese bites a couple of nights ago! Yours look so good!


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