Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese

When asked what their comfort food is, many people frequently respond that it is macaroni and cheese. I know this because I watch the Food Channel.
That's not true. I don't have cable anymore.

Macaroni and cheese is definitely one of my comfort foods. While no one is going to run around claiming its health benefits, I think we can all agree it's pretty delicious stuff. 

Mac & cheese from scratch? Am I for real? Isn't it easier--and cheaper--just to buy the dang box?

Answer: Yes, I'm for real.
Yes, it's easier, and yes it's cheaper.

But this is comfort food, and sometimes a mama just needs to feed her kids real stuff that they will actually eat. And you will be surprised at how easy it actually is. I've included pictures even! So if you're a visual learner like myself, you can whip yourself up a batch of this cheesey goodness asap.

Another cool aspect of this recipe is that it can totally be grown-up-ified, by using a fancy blend of Gruy√®re cheese and some other fancy stuff.Google macaroni and cheese and you'll come up with plenty of recipes that are all fancy. This recipe is about pleasing the kids and your palate and your checkbook which in turn pleases your husband, am I right?

Let us begin.

Your first step will be melting some butter. See, this is simple. You can do this. Melt it in a pot. 
Actually, your first step will be starting the water to boil noodles. I always forget that step. Do that in another pot.

Now whisk in flour, equal to the amount of butter you whisked in. It's going to be all bubbly and start cooking the flour taste out. This is called a roux ("roo") and will serve to thicken your cheese sauce. I'm not an expert on roux's, I'm not even sure if it's grammatically correct to say "roux's" so I'm going to leave you to decide when it's done. Unless it starts going very dark on you, I don't think you'll screw it up. I learned by doing and haven't entirely failed a roux once.

Add four cups of milk to your roux, whisking it in. You're doing great! This is how you make a bechamel ("beh-sha-mell") sauce, which is the mother of all sauces. Well, many, many sauces anyway. This is a life skill, baby.

 Right now your milk will be all milky and sloshy. Like milk. Whisk pretty frequently. This is a good time to add salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Now in those fancy recipes you googled, most of them will tell you to add some nutmeg and Dijon mustard. I personally don't have Dijon mustard in my fridge, and I sometimes add a dash or two of nutmeg, sometimes I don't. I will tell you it's "traditional" to add the nutmeg and Dijon, but in my book, it's totally optional.

Don't forget to add your noodles and some salt to that boiled water. I'm here for you forgetful, ADHD types with four kids and a puppy under your feet. 
Hmm... who is here for me then??

After awhile the milk will be considerably less sloshy. It will thicken up slowly, but certainly not like a pudding or anything. Just a little thick.

According to Rachael Ray, the correct way to stir cheese into a bechamel sauce is a little at a time, in figure eights. So that's what I try to do. :) By the way: I used the Costco cheddar/Monterey jack cheese blend for this. It's relatively inexpensive and does all the shredding work for me. Simplicity!

I took this picture specifically to point out the grain of the cheese. This is not a super smooth macaroni and cheese, it has a little texture to it. The nice thing about this is that it makes a great recipe for hidden veggies like pureed cauliflower or carrots in small amounts. Your kids won't even notice and it ups the health quotient. Of which there is currently none.
This post is brought to you by my fabulous sister-in-law Savannah, who gave me this super cool rubber spatula. I can't remember what it's called though to recommend it to you. But it's super cool.

Hopefully you listened to me and remembered to cook your noodles. Pour them into a 9x13 casserole dish.

Pour your cheese sauce over the noodles and gently stir. Top with more cheese or bread crumbs (the traditional route) or both. Or something else. :)

Pop your casserole dish under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until your macaroni is golden brown. Oh my, so yummy. Indulge. Please.

Macaroni and Cheese
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
4 c. milk
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. garlic powder
4-6 c. shredded cheddar cheese blend, 1 c. reserved
bread crumbs (optional)
4 c. macaroni noodles

Cook macaroni noodles with a dash of salt in boiling water until al dente. Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour, cook until golden. Whisk in milk and seasonings, whisking occasionally until mixture thickens. Stir in cheese a handful at a time, stirring in a figure eight motion. 
Pour noodles in 9x13 casserole dish, pour cheese sauce over. Mix gently. Top with reserved cheddar cheese and bread crumbs. Put casserole dish under the broiler for 5 minutes, until cheese is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Click on image to enlarge. Right click to save and print as a 4x6 recipe card. 
Digi kit by Fee Jardine and paper clip by Shabby Princess.

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