My kids are huge fans of macaroni and cheese nights. Honestly, I'd think they were weirdos if they weren't. I'm a fan of macaroni and cheese nights. Whenever I ask them what they want on the weekly food menu, one of the first things they'll say is, "mac n' cheese"! If I asked them what their favorite macaroni and cheeses were they'd probably say Kraft or Stouffer's. Kraft is a good quick fix and can be done in a good fifteen to twenty minutes. Stouffer's is more of a set it and forget it (for an hour) kind of meal. Both good for very different reasons and both easily convenient.
Did you know though that a homemade macaroni and cheese could be almost just as easy as something from a store bought box? In addition to being easy it is so very versatile in that you can make it however you want! You can pick your cheeses. You can add vegetables if you want. You can add ham or bacon. You can pick whatever noodle you want. People hear "homemade" and they automatically think it's a lot of work, but seriously, it really isn't at all.
So... what do I do? I actually take a base from a recipe that was given to me from a long time friend for ham and scalloped potatoes. Really it's a pretty basic rue, but it's been successful for me and I stick with what works. The rue becomes the cheesy sauce which is the most important element of your macaroni and cheese.
To start preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then, I begin the prep-work. As I said above, the cheesy flavor is the most important part. I like to buy bricks of cheese and shred them myself so I start with picking what cheeses I want to use. For this particular recipe I used some extra sharp cheddar, mild cheddar and monterey jack. I eyeball what I want to use but I try to keep the sharp cheddar on the dominant side. It really does give it that stand out cheesy flavor kick that you want. I'd start by shredding 2 cups of the sharp, 1 cup of the mild and 1 cup of the monterey jack. You can taste and add as you'd like as you go.
Next, I boil the water for the noodles and cook according to instructions (minus a minute of cooking time). While the water is boiling, I start my rue. I melt 1/2 stick of salted butter (please don't torture yourself by buying unsalted butter... there's no point) at medium high heat in a large frying pan. When the butter is about halfway melted, I use a garlic press to add a clove of garlic to the pan. If you don't have a garlic press, just chop a clove of garlic finely or you can buy a jar of minced garlic and add 1/2 teaspoon.
Once the butter is completely melted, slowly start adding 4 tablespoons of flour. Whisk the flour in little by little, making sure the mixture is blended before adding the next bit. After all of the flour is added, slowly start adding 2 cups of milk (I use whole milk but you can also use half and half or heavy cream). You have to constantly whisk as you add milk. You want your mixture to get very smooth. When that mixture is smooth, reduce your heat to medium low and add your cheese. All of it.
You'll want to keep stirring your cheese rue to make sure the cheese is melting and it tastes the way you want it too. At this point I add salt and pepper as well. When your noodles are ready, you'll compile your cooked noodles and your cheesy rue into a large, greased casserole dish and mix it all together. Cook for about 20 minutes in your pre-heated oven and you're all set!
I added a cornbread topping to my macaroni and cheese. I pre-cooked a box of Jiffy cornbread and separated it into crumbs with a fork. I melted 1/2 a stick of butter and mixed it all together. Once my macaroni and cheesy mixture was in the casserole dish, I added the cornbread topping.
If you want to add meats like ham or bacon, make sure they are pre-cooked and add them when you add the cheese into the rue. If you want to add a vegetable like corn or peppers, I'd add them when you add the garlic (as you are melting the butter). The great thing is that you can change this recipe in so many ways. Add what you want. Take out what you want. And it really is so fast and easy. Maybe the first time it'll seem like a lot, but after that, it'll be easy ch"easy"!
Serves: Around 6
1 8.5oz Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (made to box directions)
1lb Elbow Macaroni
1 stick salted butter (total)
1 garlic clove
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheese
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1. Pre-make Corn Muffin Mix.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Boil water (add lots of salt to water) and cook elbow macaroni for 1 minute less than instructed on box.
4. Melt 1/2 stick of the salted butter at medium/high heat. When butter is half way melted, add the garlic clove. Once butter is melted started slowly whisking in the flour until all flour is used and the mixture is well blended.
5. Add milk to the mixture little by little, whisking it in until it becomes smooth each time. Do so until all milk is added and the mixture has no lumps.
6. Add all cheese to the butter/garlic/milk mixture. Reduce heat to medium/low. Let all cheese melt and then add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Grease a casserole pan.
8. Pour cooked and drained noodles into casserole pan followed by the cheese mixture.
9. Melt the other 1/2 stick of salted butter in microwave. Fork crumble the corn muffins in a bowl. Mix the melted butter and corn muffins and then spread along the top of the noodles and cheese in the casserole pan.
10. Put in the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. When the cornbread topping starts to brown up bit.
11. Pull out of oven and cool.
12. Serve to your family and be the best parent ever.