Oh man. Macaroni and cheese. Mac ‘n Cheese.
Just the mention of it’s name conjures up happy thoughts of warm, ooey, gooey goodness. Comfort food at it’s finest.
Growing up, my mom always made mac and cheese from scratch. I didn’t even know any different. I never even had the Kraft Blue Box Mac ‘n Cheese with the unnatural neon orange dust until I was in college.
Of course, I loved the fake stuff and bought like 10 boxes (they were the epitome of cheap eats for a broke college girl!). But, my heart always belonged to the homemade stuff. And the heart wants what the heart wants, am I right?
I love making macaroni and cheese because it is easy and my kids love it. Like most kids, they devour it. And I feel much better about giving them something I made instead of the “processed cheese food” found in the box. (*Important Note: I still give them the boxed stuff sometimes. So what? My mother-in-law doesn’t cook anything and she gives them the boxed stuff too. NBD. Just keeping it real, guys.)
This is my recipe for basic macaroni and cheese. I’ll add some alterations you can make at the end of the post:
1 box of pasta. You can any short pasta you want, but I usually use elbow, rotini, or shells.
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk (I use 2% because that’s what we have in the house all the time)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups shredded cheese. For this one, I used equal parts sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, and white cheddar. See end of post for alternatives.
Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions. I always do the lower end of the time because it will continue cooking in the oven. For example, if the box says 7-9 minutes, do 7 minutes.
While the pasta is boiling, make your cheese sauce:
Melt butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir together until combined for a couple minutes. Keep stirring so it cooks out the flour taste, but doesn’t burn.
Add the milk, one cup at a time. Stir well to combine. Let each addition come to a slow boil/simmer before adding the next cup. This is your béchamel sauce and should be thickened to the point that it will lightly cover the back of a spoon or spatula.
Stir in your salt and pepper and turn off the heat.
Add 2-1/2 cups of cheese and stir to combine, reserving the last 1-1/2 cups. Now you have a cheese sauce.
Drain your pasta and add it back into the pot. Add the cheese sauce and stir to cover all the pasta in that liquid gold.
Pour the cheesy pasta into a baking dish and cover with the remaining shredded cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until golden and bubbly.
Grab a fork and feel like a kid again.
You can make this ahead of time. Just stop before putting it in the oven. Cover and refrigerate overnight or freeze for a couple months. If you go the freezer route, I would use a disposable aluminum pan, not a glass baking dish. When it freezes, it will expand and could break your dish.
Fun ways to switch it up:
* Add chopped up ham. A great way to use leftovers from Easter or Christmas. Or just buy some ham and throw it in. It’s yummy.
* Add bacon. Bacon. Enough said.
* Add a spoonful or two of sour cream, mascarpone, or plain greek yogurt for extra creaminess (and extra protein from the greek yogurt!)
* Add a spoonful or two of pureed butternut squash as a way to sneak in some extra veggies. It doesn’t really change the flavor much or the color, so kids won’t even notice it. Yay extra nutrition!
* Speaking of extra nutrition, chop up some broccoli and throw it in.
* Play around with different cheeses. Cheddars are great, adding pepperjack gives it a nice kick, havarti is good, provolone, parmesan,gouda, muenster. Any good melting cheese. Combine a few and see what happens. Probably a whole lot of deliciousness! I’ve even heard of people adding blue cheese. That is definitely not something I would do, but my hubby would love it.
* Make a batch and put it in the fridge. After it’s cooled and hardened a bit, cut it into small squares. Set up a dredging station (a dish with flour and a dish with beaten egg). Dip the squares in the flour, then the egg, then back in the flour. Fry them in hot vegetable oil. It’s a great appetizer that everyone will love!
How do you do mac ‘n cheese?