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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quite Simply Mac and Cheese

I made homemade mac and cheese for the first time last night. Whoa. Holy carp. I had to refrain from eating all of it. I may never buy the blue box or that frozen stuff again (especially since the homemade can be portioned out and frozen)!

I used to be intimidated by the homemade stuff...cheese sauce can be tricky...but I got a burr under my saddle about making it. I'm glad I did.

Here, then, is a very basic, easy-peasy recipe:

The Players:
8 oz uncooked macaroni, or any pasta that has nooks, crannies, or hollows where cheesy goodness can nestle
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Season Salt
2 cups whole milk
3 cups plus a handful of freshly shredded cheese (I used a combination of sharp yellow and white Cheddars and Monterrey Jack, this time)
1/2 cup minced onion

Ready? Go!

Combine flour, salt, pepper, and mustard powder in a dish. Sprinkle some paprika (or not) and season salt (or not) in - how much depends on you, and you don't need them if you don't want them.

Boil the pasta in salted water until not quite done...al dente is as cooked as you want it. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly.

In a saucepan, melt butter, then add dry mixture. Cook over medium heat until slightly bubbly. Add milk, a little at a time, stirring thoroughly to prevent lumps. Cook until thick, about the consistency of gravy.

Mix in the three cups cheese, about a cup at a time, stirring constantly to keep it smooooth. By the way, you can use this sauce on veggies, or mix it with rice for a casserole, too...it's versatile!

Put the noodles back into their now-dry cooking pot, add the onions, then pour the sauce it all. Mix. Dump the mac and cheese into a baking dish and cover with the handful of cheese (or more if you like it gooey), then bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until it's all golden and bubbly.


For some variety you could...

...add steamed broccoli
...add cooked ham
...mix in some Boursin or Allouette style cheese
...crumble some bleu cheese into it (bleh)(but hey, to each his own)
...caramelize the onions before mixing them in
...saute a few mushrooms in butter and garlic, then toss 'em in the mix
...add fresh, steamed peas
...add crab meat (I plan to try this very soon)
...add fresh steamed asparagus and shredded prosciutto
...add fried pancetta
...throw some fresh spinach in
...use a bit of shredded Parmesan
...add some sauteed squash and/or zucchini
...try some Gruyere, Asiago, Asadero, Fontina, or Romano for a different flavor
...stir in a can of tomatoes and chilies, drained
...add corn
...toss in some chunks of cooked turkey or chicken
...stir in some ground beef
...top with bread crumbs browned in butter
...use your imagination

Some recipes call for tempering in an egg before you sauce the noodles. Those recipes scare me - we often lose our temper around here, and broken or curdled sauces make me sad. If you really want to, go right ahead, but it's all you, baby.

If you want to double it up, go right ahead. If you want to freeze it, do so after adding the cheese sauce but before baking. When you want to nom, simply defrost and bake.

Trust me - I am not into difficult, fiddly recipes. This is a bit more advanced than, say, making toast, but it's no more challenging than that blue box stuff and it tastes soooo much better!

What do you like with your mac and cheese?


That Janie Girl said...

Hmmm. That recipe doesn't seem too hard.

I might try it!

Michelle Roebuck said...

Sounds pretty darned good - and the "gravy" base is almost exactly the same as what our family uses for Cream Chipped Beef (a.k.a. Shit on a Shingle). I love the idea of mixing in different additions - might try black beans because my Eener-Beaner LOVES his "bees". Ooo - I wonder if I could use coconut oil in place of butter!!

Momlady said...

So glad you tried it. My mom used to make it from scratch all the time ('course this was before the blue box). She used "rat" cheese....yum.