As the winter chill sets in and the schedules seem to get endlessly busier, I find myself looking for ways to satisfy my rich food itch. To make something that fits the need normally takes a good bit of time, but not always. I love to make a quick Macaroni and Cheese that can be reheated at a moment’s notice and goes with just about everything!
This recipe is very achievable and has always served me well. I often make it on a Sunday for the football games and add some protein whether it be crispy bacon bits, diced chicken, sausage or ham, really anything can be added to this recipe. When it cools down, it tends to be thick and solid, so it is a great recipe to cut and fry for a fun holiday appetizer.
Macaroni and cheese is a derivative of the classic French Mother sauce Béchamel. A true Béchamel sauce is milk thickened with a blond or white roux (look back on my post From White to Black: Breaking Down Roux) that is commonly seasoned with a small amount of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper. As this sauce is quite light in flavor and tends to be used more as a base for other flavors, it's a perfect match for cheese of any sort. The true name for a Béchamel with cheese added is a Mornay (i.e. Alfredo sauce and cheese sauce).
A sauce of this nature can be as simple as a hot Béchamel with a cheese of your liking stirred and melted in or it can take on all kinds of depth with spices, herbs, vinegars, or savory components mixed in. I kept this recipe quite simple in the hope that you folks would master it and use your own imaginations to really create something extravagant!
To begin, you will want to use a relatively heavy bottom pan if you have one. If a thinner pan is all you have that is fine, just be aware that you may need to stir more frequently and use a slightly lower heat to avoid scorching or burning on the bottom. Gather all of your ingredients and have them measured out ahead of time to allow a smooth flow while you are cooking.
Heat your pan on medium heat and add the butter to melt.
As soon as it has melted, fully pour in the flour and stir it all together into a paste the consistency of wet sand.
This will need to cook for a minute or two to keep the flour from being grainy.
When your Roux begins to smell like fresh baked bread, you are all set to grab your whisk and milk. Turn the heat off and pour a little milk in at a time, whisking continuously to avoid clumping. The roux will thicken immediately, and you may need to stop pouring milk to whisk until it smooths out again. Continue adding small pours of milk until the mixture begins to smooth out and become more fluid, then you can pour the remainder of the milk in at once and mix it fully.
Now that you have a thickened milk base you can stir in all your spices and seasonings. I choose paprika, cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder for this recipe because they create a nice background flavor without dominating the cheese in the sauce. For those of you who are not spice lovers, don’t worry, the cayenne pepper is a small amount and will simply brighten the flavor without knocking out your spice level. I often just use a few dashes of tabasco instead if that’s easier.
After adding the spices, you will need to turn your heat back on medium-high and stir continuously until the liquid returns to a boil for 2-3 minutes. This will fully thicken your sauce and let your spices bloom in the process.
Next comes the cheese! I used a few different types to keep my flavor round, but if you are passionate about a cheese feel free to use just that or 10 different types if you like. I often use cheddar as a base and then use a shredded cheese blend to get a few different cheeses in the mix or I just clean out my cheese drawer as I am a bit of a cheese junky. You will want to shred your cheese if you have block cheese to make the melting easier. When you are all set begin sprinkling your shredded cheese in gradually while stirring so that no clumps form and the heat melts it all evenly.
From here you can taste your sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. I always wait to add my salt because often cheeses are salty enough and you won't need much. When you are content with your flavor, throw in your noodles of choice and mix them in. I like to use rotini, elbows or shells because they hold onto that sauce quite well to give that flavor bomb of a bite.
This Mac n' Cheese will be a hit wherever you go and you can do whatever you want to change it up. Throw in some BBQ sauce and chicken for a curveball or try some sautéed peppers and onions to pair with a steak, maybe even steak tips roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions!
Mac and Cheese
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
1 pound cooked rotini noodles
3 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
1/2 Tablespoon paprika
1/2 Tablespoon onion powder
1/2 Tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons Gouda cheese
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces mozzarella cheese
2 ounces Parmesan cheese
2 ounces Asiago cheese
1. Melt butter in heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add flour and stir continuously until mixture begins to smell like fresh baked bread, about 1-2 minutes.
2. Turn off heat and while continuously whisking, slowly pour in milk until fully blended without clumps. Add dry spices, return to medium high heat and stir until liquid thickens and comes to a full boil for 2 minutes.
3. Reduce head to medium and sprinkle shredded cheeses in while stirring. Adjust seasoning to your desired taste and add noodles and mix.
You know what would go great with this mac n' cheese? Fried Chicken! Learn how to make it in our virtual class on Sunday, December 27 at 4pm CST:
- Chopped Salad with Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Blue Cheese and Red Wine Vinaigrette
- Fried Chicken
- Green Chili and Cheddar Cornbread Muffins