Monday, November 29, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese--the Ultimate Comfort Food

There’s nothing like a big bowl of macaroni and cheese to take you back to your mom’s kitchen table.  We all grew up with it, and almost every kid recognizes the blue and yellow box.  It was one of the first things I learned how to cook as a little girl, and it sustained me through many late nights in college.  And while I still occasionally enjoy macaroni and cheese from a box, I now know how to make super cheesy, super easy macaroni and cheese from scratch.

The technique used to make the cheese sauce is a basic skill that every cook should master.  If you watch cooking shows, you have seen it many times.  It starts with a roux (pronounced rū, rhymes with stew), which is a mixture of a fat and flour.  Roux is used as a thickening agent in many different types of dishes.  It is the key to making gravy without lumps.

I almost always make roux with butter.  Once the butter is melted, I add the flour and stir until bubbly.  You want to be sure to bring it to bubbling to cook off the flavor of the flour.  The longer a roux cooks, the darker it gets.  Recipes will sometimes instruct you to make a light roux, medium roux, or dark roux; this is an indication of the color.  You must be careful not to overcook the roux for your specific recipe, because the darker the roux, the less thickening power it has.


The addition of milk or cream to a roux results in a béchamel, or a white sauce.  This sauce is also the base for many recipes such as cream soups and cheese sauces.

Be careful to avoid spills--the after the milk is added
and heats up, it will foam up quickly.

In our house we have to use
"car pasta" or "tire pasta."
Baked macaroni and cheese
1½ c. macaroni, small shells, wagon wheels, or other small pasta
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1½ c. milk
3 slices American cheese
3 oz. cheddar, shredded, plus more for sprinkling on top
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ c. bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease 8-inch square pan; set aside.  Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.  In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add flour; stir and cook until bubbly.  Stir in milk and bring to boil, stirring constantly.  Continue to boil 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add cheese; stir until melted.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.  Combine with cooked pasta; pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle with extra cheddar cheese.  Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle over pasta.  Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned.  NOTE:  double recipe for 9”X13” pan.

Variation:  substitute 1½ c. chicken broth for the milk, omit salt.  This results in a less creamy, more savory macaroni and cheese.

This recipe is intended to be for baked macaroni and cheese.  The crispy bread topping pushes it from wonderful to amazing.  However, kids (including my six-year-old) tend to prefer stove-top macaroni and cheese.  No problem!  Just serve it after mixing the cheese sauce with the pasta.  You can even mix in some leftover veggies.

Since my husband and I really like the baked version, I leave half as stove-top macaroni and cheese for the kids and I bake the other half in single-serving sized dishes for us.  If your dinnerware is oven-safe, you can bake it right in your bowls.  You can also use ramekins or Pyrex custard cups.  Be sure to serve the bowls on a plate and warn everyone that they are hot.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails