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Homemade Mac-n-cheese with variations

This is the recipe that, when I say "what do you want me to make for dinner" my kids reply with, nearly without fail.  It's pretty popular with all the adults, too.

And I was 100% sure I had posted it in the past, but I can't find it.  So if I have, I apologize.  But if I can't find it, odds are just as good that you can't either.  I should probably work on my blogs organization a little.

In the mean time, here is the recipe... I've often thought of doing a side by side challenge, me on one side making this, and someone else on the other side making boxed mac-n-cheese.  Besides the fact that it takes one more pan, it is equally as easy and takes the exact same amount of time- as long as it takes to boil the noodles.  And it tastes better.  And it's real food.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 6+ servings as a side dish, or 4 main dish servings (esp w/ variations)

  • 1 package whole wheat elbow, spiral, or penne pasta (or whatever smallish shape you prefer)
  • A BIG pot of boiling salted water
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 2 T. flour (white or whole wheat works... I still use white for my roux's, so sue me!)
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 8 oz. (give or take...) cheese.  Cheddar alone is fine, although experiment.  Mixing whatever cheeses you have on hand can create some pretty flavorful dishes!
  • salt and pepper to taste (a real foodie would say white pepper....)
  • OPTIONAL: a pinch of nutmeg

If you haven't already, boil the water.

Assuming your pasta takes 10 minutes to cook, don't do anything else until you put the pasta in.  When you put the pasta in, put a pan (skillet, largish sauce pan, whatever will hold 2 cups of milk plus the cheese with stirring room... so 1.5 quarts or more) on medium heat and add the butter, swirling it around the pan as it melts.  When it is mostly melted, add the flour and stir, allowing the flour and butter to cook for a few minutes.

Congratulations, you just made a roux.

Slowly whisk in the milk (said the cooking show person- really, dump it all in at once and stir a little.  it works out).   As the milk/flour/butter mixture heats it will thicken.  Once it's fairly thick (a little thinner than you want, because the cheese will thicken it further) turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and optional nutmeg.

By this time your pasta should be done.  Drain (but don't rinse!  don't ever rinse!) your pasta and, if you cooked your sauce in a big pan, dump the pasta in that pan.  If not, return the pasta to the pasta boiling pan and stir in the cheese.

Voila, stovetop mac-n-cheese, far better than the blue box and just as fast.

But wait, there's more!

You can add stuff to this and make it an entire meal!

(how's that you say?)

Well, the sky's the limit.  Add meat of choice and veg of choice and you have a meal.  But here are some of our favorites (or me and Scott's favorites, and our kids list of "ways mom messes up perfectly good macaroni and cheese").

Variation 1: Party on a Plate.  The name is something I picked up teaching preschool.  We used to eat this and one of my coworkers HATED it, but she believed in setting a good example, so she would always be really super positive about the foods she disliked at lunch time.  So she called this Party on a Plate, and it stuck with me.  Prepare as above, except instead of melting butter, brown the ground beef (and you may want to start sooner...) and add fat as needed.  Stir the flour into the browned meat and proceed with the sauce (just with beef mixed in this time...).  Stir in the salsa after mixing the sauce and noodles, and return to the heat to heat through.

Variation 2:  Tuna Casserole Redux.  I have like 5 different versions of tuna casserole that I make, and I love them all.  This is one of the easiest.  While preparing the sauce, steam a bag or a bunch of broccoli.  At the end stir in 1-2 cans of tuna (it's a taste thing- I like 2) and the steamed and drained broccoli.  Tada!

Variation 3:  The Best Macaroni and Cheese you will Ever Eat.  Or Macaroni and cheese with bacon and caramelized onions.  Instead of melting the butter, cook and dice 3-4 strips of bacon, then set aside but leave all the lovely fat in the pan.  Slice/dice/julienne (it doesn't matter, really) an onion and cook in bacon fat until lightly browned.  Then stir the flour into the cooked onions and proceed with making the sauce.  At the end stir in the diced bacon.  Yum Yum!

Variation 4:  Mac goes Italian.  This one includes sausage and diced tomatoes.  Basically follow the exact same directions as party on a plate, only with (you guessed it...) sausage and a can of diced tomatoes.

You see where I'm going with this?

If you come up with any fun variations, please share!

This recipe has been shared at Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday.


Amateur Cook said...

  He he! If you did a side-by-side with a boxed product, I pity the person who would end up having to eat it.  ツ

Brandislee said...

I've thought about doing a side by side or a blind taste test with someone, but I think most people's palates are so accustomed to the super salty processed flavor of the blue box junk and it would depend on their typical diet. I babysit for a friend's three boys sometimes and they eat a more or less healthy diet. I should do it when they're here with our combined five kids.

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