Macaroni and Cheese
Who doesn’t love a nice creamy Macaroni and Cheese? I don’t know of anyone personally. Even though it’s called macaroni and cheese, the pasta can pretty much be any type of short pasta you have on hand, cooked and covered, or should I say smothered in a rich, creamy cheese sauce. Macaroni and cheese is simply a comfort food classic. It’s relatively inexpensive to make and is pretty easy as well.
Often times mac & cheese is baked in the oven once it’s prepared stove top. Whether you like a crispy cheesy top or not is completely a personal decision and I won’t judge you either way. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy mac and cheese.
My family is split on the crunchy topping. Two of my kids like it, the third does not. I like it both ways. So depending on how i’m feeling the day I make it, or who I am feeding, it may or may not get baked with a topping.
In my house, my kids have all had the typical boxed mac and cheese. I have always leaned to a white cheese sauce, whether it be boxed from the store, or homemade. My homemade sauce has plenty of cheddar cheese it it, don’t get me wrong, but it may be white cheddar, and it completely depends on what’s in my fridge.
I tend to use mac and cheese night as a way to use up all of the ends of cheese that have been left in the refrigerator, along with extra of course. You can get as creative as you like. I don’t think you can go wrong with whatever cheese you put in just make sure you start with a good base. The rest is easy. Taste Taste Taste as you make your sauce.
I have a pretty standard sauce, but sometimes I add a little extra this or that. (cheeses I need to use up). I also like to add some veggies to my mac and cheese on occasion.
My family’s favorite it my Jalapeno mac and cheese. I roast the jalapeno’s over the flame of my stove until pretty much black, then toss them in a small plastic zipper bag to sweat for about 15 minutes, then scrape off the black parts, cut open the peppers and scrape out as much of the vein and seeds as I feel is appropriate for who will be eating it (adjusting the heat level this way), chop them up and toss them into the sauce just before adding the cooked pasta. My family loves this version.
Some other “versions” we like are broccoli mac and cheese, mushroom mac and cheese, bacon mac and cheese,
Tips for making the Best Macaroni and Cheese
- Cooking the Pasta: if you plan on baking the mac and cheese, then under cook your pasta by three or four minutes so that it doesn’t overcook and get mushy in the oven. If you’re not baking it then cook it according to the package directions just to el dente. Keeping in mind elbow macaroni will take less time than a scoobie doo or pene pasta noodle to cook.
- Milk and Cream: Use Warm milk and cream (or at least room temperature) if possible. Colder liquids will take longer to thicken.
- Cheese: Use your favorite cheese, or whatever you have on hand that you want to use up. I like strong cheddar and gruyere but I often add cream cheese or goat cheese if I have a little leftover that needs using. The goat cheese adds a little tanginess that is very nice and cream cheese adds a silky quality. You can even use processed brick cheese if that’s what you like. It adds color and creaminess. There are so many options with cheese, be creative. Mozzarella, gouda, smoked cheddar, swiss, colby, jack, etc.
- Shred Vs. PRE-Shredded: If possible, shred your own cheeses. The one’s in the bag, although convenient, are coated with a starch like substance to prevent it from clumping in the bag, but this also inhibits the melting quality. So do yourself a favor and shred your own.
Variations of Macaroni and Cheese
- Jalapeno: As I mentioned above, char the jalapeno then remove the outer skin, seeds and veins to your preferred heat tolerance, then add it in when you add the sauce. YUM
- Bacon: If you love crispy bacon, then go ahead and add some crumbled crispy bacon to the sauce, or even sprinkle some extra on top (with or without a crispy panko topping).
- Broccoli: Steam some broccoli florets then add them to the sauce just before baking or serving. Reminiscent of broccoli cheddar soup…who doesn’t love that. Plus you get your kids to eat some much needed vegetables!
Toppings for Macaroni and Cheese
I and my family (well, except for the one!) prefer a nice crunchy PANKO bread crumb topping. Combine your panko with a bit of melted butter ( 1 Tbsp butter per 1/2 cup of panko) then sprinkle on the top just before baking, making sure not to burn it of course.
Cheese is always a good choice for a topping. If you want your Mac and Cheese to be extra cheesy, sprinkle extra cheese on top.
Can I make this ahead of time?
You absolutely can make this ahead of time, even a day ahead, but do not bake it until you are ready to serve it (well just before). After making the sauce and cooking the pasta, combine and let cool completely, then cover the casserole with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate until the next day. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before you want to serve it and allow it to warm up before baking otherwise it will take longer in the oven. Then bake at recipe temperature for 25-35 minutes. If you want a crunchy topping, add this just before the final baking as well. Otherwise if you add it the day before it will become soggy and not crisp up. Also, keep in mind that by letting the pasta sit in the sauce overnigh, it will absorb more of the sauce, resulting in a less creamy mac and cheese. If you have extra sauce (or make extra), then add some before the final bake and topping stage. Making and serving the mac and cheese right away yields the best result, but don’t shy away from the recipe if you want to make it a day ahead. It’s still great!
Macaroni and Cheese
For the Sauce
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup flour
- ½ med onion, grated fine
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 cups milk (3%)
- 2 cup heavy cream (or half and half)
- 3 cups grated cheese of choice (more if adding cheese to top of mid layer) * or combination of cheeses
- ⅙ tsp fresh grated Nutmeg (Optional)
- ½ tsp dry mustard
For the Pasta
- 1 tbsp salt
- 500 grams pasta of choice (scoobie doo is my preferred)
If making Baked Mac & Cheese
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 whole jalapeno (roasted or charred over open flame then diced fine-deveind for less heat* optional) * if making jalapeno Mac & Cheese
For the Pasta
- Put a pot of water on to boil, once boiling add a generous amount of salt and the pasta, cook to package directions if not baking, if baking reduce time by 3 minutes. Drain sprinkle with a small amount of olive oil and set aside in the pot.
- Shred the cheeses and set aside while the pasta is cooking, then start the sauce.
For the Cheese Sauce
- In a pot, add butter and melt over medium heat, once melted add grated onion and cook for a minute until translucent.
- Add the flour, making a roux, cook the roux for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly
- slowly, Add your warm (not cold) milk and cream and whisk constantly until smooth. Continue to heat of med-hi heat, until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and start adding your spices and 1½ cups of the cheese. Stir until the cheese melts then stir in the remaining 1½ cups of cheese, stir until smooth. (Taste for salt and seasonings…adjust if necessary)
- Pour the cheese sauce over the drained pasta in the pot and stir to coat.
- If baking your pasta: Pour half of the pasta into the baking dish, top with some extra cheese then the remaining pasta.
- Sprinkle to top with either more shredded cheese, or the Panko and butter mixture if you want the crispy top.
- Bake at 350℉ for 15 minutes until top is crispy and light golden brown or the cheese is melty and bubbly.