There is nothing like a heaping spoonful of macaroni and cheese on your plate. Put simply, mac and cheese is comfort food at it's finest. While I do enjoy some blue-boxed Kraft every once in a while, a good homemade mac and cheese makes me feel all warm and cozy. Finding the right recipe has been tricky, though. I thought it was darn near impossible to make a creamy mac and cheese without Velveeta, but friends, have I got a recipe for you.
I found it in a magazine, but it was so long ago that I don't remember which magazine it was. Probably Family Circle. Who knows? Who cares? All I know is that it is fantastic, and I'm willing to share it. Even my mom, who has sworn her entire adult life that she doesn't like macaroni and cheese had two helpings of it when I made it for her.
Just so you know, I am not a good cook. I am a good follower of directions. Give me a recipe, I can make something yummy. Give me a bunch of ingredients and tell me to create something, I'll starve. When I say I've tweaked the recipe, it's not because I thought it would taste better. It's because I didn't have the ingredient and just left it out.
And lastly, before we get to the best mac and cheese recipe you've ever seen, I'll tell you that I have changed a few of the directions. Not because they were unclear, but because the yahoos writing this paid no attention to the number of dishes they were using to make it. I am always conscious of the number of dishes I am using, making sure Hubby doesn't have to wash any dishes that are unnecessary. (Yes, you read that right. The day after we got married, we discussed the distribution of chores. Whoever cooks doesn't clean. I always cook, because I hate to clean.)
Finally, the recipe. I will give you the directions from the recipe, then in italics you will find the things I do to keep the dirty dish count down. You will need:
1 box (1 pound) penne rigate
3/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I use 2 cup package of Kraft shredded.)
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded (I forgot to check the package before I wrote this, but I do believe I use only half of this amount.)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I use skim.)
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (This would be a tweaked item. I've never used it.)
Heat oven to 350. Coat a 2-quart broiler-safe oval baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling.
I only own one large pot, so I use a medium pot for the penne. I save the large pot for the cheese sauce. That way only one pot gets cheesy and hard to wash.
I don't spray the dish until later. Instead of shredding on a plate or cutting board, I shred it in the baking dish. Shred the Gruyere and Parmesan into the dish, mix them up a bit, and save for later.
Once water boils, add penne. Cook 6 minutes then drain. In a large bowl, toss together the cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan. Set aside.
As for the penne, duh. And I've never actually timed 6 minutes. As for the bowl and cheese, we've gone over that. Mix just the two cheeses, leave the cheddar in the bag for now.
Melt butter in medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and slightly bubbly.
I used the large pot instead of the medium saucepan. I do believe we are making what is called a roux.
In a thin stream, whisk in milk. Stir in onion powder, salt, and cayenne. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in 2 1/2 cups of the cheese mixture.
I do all of this, except no cayenne and I don't measure the cheese. I just use half of the cheese, the two that I shredded into the baking dish, and half of the package of cheddar.
The half of the cheese that I don't put into the pot, I put into the cheddar bag. Easy, no-mess way to mix all three cheeses together and set aside to use in a minute. NOW spray the baking dish.
In pasta pot, stir together the cooked penne and the cheese sauce.
Or pour the pasta into the cheese sauce in order to avoid washing two cheesy pots.
Pour half of the mac and cheese into the baking dish. Sprinkle with a generous cup of the shredded cheese. Spoon remaining penne into dish and top with remaining cheese.
By generous cup, they mean half of the leftover shredded cheese. We're just layering here.
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Increase oven temperature to broil and cook 3 minutes, until top is lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving.
One other thing about me, I seem to have a touch of ADD. Apparently, this is the first time that I made it to the bottom of this recipe. I have never, ever broiled the mac and cheese. I have simply baked it for 25 minutes or so. Until it looks good :)
Oh, and it is good. Trust me.
Have a lovely day!