Creamy mac and cheese has a luxurious sauce made of smoked cheddar and whole milk. It’s the tastiest macaroni and cheese you will ever make.
Last Thursday night The Husband and I were lying in bed. He’s reading a science fiction novel and I’m staring at the ceiling.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I’m trying to decide what we are going to have for dinner tomorrow night.” Usually I have my meals planned out for the entire week. However, last week I had run out of ideas so I thought I would just wing it. Surely I can come up with something by next Friday. And yet here it was – Friday Eve – and I had nothing.
A few more minutes went by and The Husband asks, “So what are we having for dinner tomorrow?” Because dinner is one thing you don’t mess around with as far as he’s concerned. You must have a plan.
In a defeated breath I replied, “I don’t know.”
He thinks for a moment, then says, “Didn’t you buy the stuff to make macaroni and cheese recently?”
Yes, I still had a package of elbow macaroni in the pantry and a bar of sharp cheddar in the fridge. Bought a few weekends ago with good intentions but just not enough time.
“Sure, I can make macaroni and cheese. What do you want with it?”
“Nothing. I just want your macaroni and cheese and maybe a beer to go with it.”
The mother in me thought – No, that is absolutely NOT a healthy meal. Then the younger me – the rebel that used to have a platinum blonde pixie haircut when everyone else had long hair and once owned a pair of skin tight, fire engine red microsuede pants (oh, the things we wear when we are young, ridiculously thin, and on the prowl…) thought – why the hell not? It’s Friday, it has been a long week, and I can think of nothing better than a cold beer, good music, and a plate of homemade macaroni and cheese out on the back porch.
Start With Perfectly Cooked Noodles
No one likes mushy macaroni. No one. Start by bringing several cups of salted water to a boil in a large stock pot. It’s really important to cook the pasta in lightly salted water so the pasta will absorb the flavor. No one likes bland macaroni either.
Now, here is a very important tip — cook your pasta for two minutes less than what the package directions call for. It will still be a little on the chewy side, but don’t worry. It will still continue to cook a little after you drain it. And we’ll finish cooking in our creamy, dreamy cheese sauce.
The Case for Shredding Your Own Cheese
Shredding cheese is a hassle. Especially when you’re right in the middle of making a recipe and you realize you’ve forgotten to shred the cheese. Resist the urge to grab that plastic bag of preshredded cheddar.
Preshredded cheese contains cellulose powder, an anti-caking agent that prevents the cheese from sticking together. That’s great for when you’re sprinkling shredded cheddar over the top of a casserole, but not so great when you’re trying to make a smooth and creamy sauce. The cellulose prevents the sauce from coming together into a silky smooth sauce. Try this shortcut and you won’t end up with a velvety smooth sauce. You’ll end up with a gloopy mess.
Instead, take a few minutes to shred your own cheese. It’s easier to shred the cheese while it’s cold. Allow the shredded cheese to come to room temperature for easy melting.
How to Make Creamy Mac and Cheese
This creamy mac and cheese recipe uses basic pantry ingredients — macaroni, sharp cheddar, milk, butter and seasonings. Before you get started, shred you cheese and leave it sitting out on the counter while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Step one. Cook your pasta. Remember, we’re cooking the past a for two minutes less than what the package recommends.
Step two. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Step three. Add one tablespoon of flour to the butter. Whisk until the flour is absorbed into the butter and the mixture is smooth. Cook for two more minutes just to get rid of the raw flour taste.
Step four. Add salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. The cayenne is not enough to make the dish spicy. But if you’re worry about the heat, you can leave it out.
Step five. Remove the pan from the heat. Gradually whisk in milk. I prefer to use whole milk for the creaminess, but if you want to cut down on calories you could opt for skim. Whisk constantly until milk is incorporated into the flour and the mixture is smooth.
Step six. Return the pan to heat and bring to simmer over medium low heat. Stirring constantly, continue to simmer until mixture has begun to thicken.
Step seven. Remove the pan from the heat again. Stir in cheese. Continue to stir until cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. If the sauce is too thick, you can think it with a little more milk.
Step eight. Pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni. Gently stir until the macaroni is coated with the cheese mixture. This with more milk if you need to.
Step nine. Garnish the macaroni with paprika and chopped fresh parsley, if desired.
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Creamy Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 cup whole or 2% milk
- 2 cups room temperature smoked cheddar cheese shredded
- Paprika and chopped fresh parsley optional
Cook macaroni according to package directions, reducing the cooking time by about 1-2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In the meantime, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes to get rid of the starchy flavor in the flour.
Add salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Remove pan from heat. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly, until milk is incorporated and smooth.
Return pan to heat and bring to simmer. Stirring constantly, continue to simmer until mixture has begun to thicken.
Reduce heat to low. Stir in cheese. Continue to stir until cheese is melted.
Add in cooked macaroni. Gently stir until macaroni is coated with the cheese mixture.
Garnish with paprika and chopped fresh parsley, if desired.