Old fashioned macaroni and cheese – the kind that doesn’t come from a box- has got to be the top comfort food in the United States. Rich cheese sauce, gooey chunks of cheese, crispy crumb topping – is your mouth watering yet?
Guess what? You can make this!
My mother came from a family of seven. Each of the girls, and the sisters-in-law had a specialty that they brought to each family gathering. Being in Michigan the foods were likely to be jell-o salads, macaroni dishes, and such. Aunt Bernie was, I think, the hands down best cook in the family but Aunt Lou made far and away the most magical, cheesiest, most amazing macaroni salad in the history of the known world.
The edges of the macaroni were just a little crunchy and when you pulled the spoon out of the dish long, steaming strands of cheese would clutch at the dish until you took your finger and pulled those cheese threads away. The top was strewn with crispy, buttery, bread crumbs and black pepper. I can taste it to this day. I swear there has never been anything like it and I sure can’t do it justice, either. She obviously had the touch.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try. This baked mac & cheese is full of old fashioned goodness, crispy, buttery bread crumbs, and those tell-tale strands of gooey cheese. The cheesiness comes from two kinds of cheese used in two different ways. I like to use Panko for the top because it stays crispier but homemade bread crumbs are fine, too. For this particular recipe I added a tablespoon of smoke flavoring, sliced hot dogs that had been grilled (great way to use leftovers, right?) and a 1/2 cup of finely chopped pepperoncini. Mac & Cheese is versatile, you can add almost anything. I think that is one reason it became so popular.
You can actually put together the casserole the night before, leaving off the crumbs. When you get home from work the next evening, or get home from sky diving, or whatever it is you do then add the crumbs and slide it into the oven for a half hour while you relax with a glass of wine and your favorite reality show.
That’s it. I promise you, you will love this stuff. Oh, here’s a hint. As much as I hate to say this – overcook the macaroni just slightly. You don’t want it a la dente for this dish. When it is soft (but not so much that it’s mushy) then it absorbs the cheese sauce a bit more. There is something about all of the textures and flavors that is just downright delicious.
Oh… by the way. This recipe starts with a roux, a cooked combination of flour and butter. If this is not done right the entire recipe will be off. Undercooked and it will taste like raw flour – over cooked and it will taste scorched. So here’s how you do it.
To Make Perfect Roux
- Starting with a low fire (or lowest heat on an electric) melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams. Don’t let the butter brown.
- Add the flour all at once and stir constantly.
- Carefully watch the color of the butter and flour mixture. Don’t worry about it lumping up just keep it moving.
- When the mixture becomes a light golden brown slowly add warmed milk and cream, whisking constantly.
- The process takes about eight minutes at my house but don’t try to go by the clock. You have to go by the color.
Just out of curiosity, does your family have that same sort of thing with the cooks? What are their specialties?