There are certain foods that taste better out of the box–Twinkies, for example–and I’m inclined to grant Kraft macaroni and cheese that status. But only because I consider homemade macaroni and cheese vs. Kraft mac to be a showdown between two completely different food groups. At times, you may crave the familiarity of moistened cheese powder and elongated noodles (perfect for fork-threading!), but for those instances when all you want is a comforting dish prepared lovingly by the hands of someone you know and trust, homemade macaroni and cheese takes the cake.
I’ve only tried one homemade mac-n-cheese recipe, because after a single test run I felt I couldn’t possibly top the flavor and richness (not to mention perfect name) that Maria Costello’s “Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese” delivers. I’ve modified quantities in the base recipe, eliminating a call for “processed cheese food” (which means icky Velveeta, as far as I’m concerned), in favor of increased amounts of fresh Cheddar. My ingredients for a two-person recipe are as follows:
– 3/4 cups uncooked macaroni noodles
– 3 tablespoons butter, divided
– 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
– 1/4 teaspoon salt (or omit if you’re watching sodium)
– 1/8 teaspoon pepper
– 3/4 cup milk
– 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (though don’t be shy if you want to add more)
– 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
I up the Cheddar significantly from the original recipe, as well as the butter and bread crumbs, because I like lots of crunchy topping. Still, you can eliminate the topping altogether for a healthier side dish (or main course), and adjust the cheese to your taste. I like to use Sharp Cheddar (Tillamook being a great but expensive brand), because it mellows out considerably after baking.
Cooking your own mac-n-cheese is honestly not much more involved than making the boxed variety. First, pre-heat the oven at 375 degrees. You’ll then boil water and cook your noodles to taste. I like to leave them al dente because baking will further soften them, and eating mushy, falling-to-pieces noodles is the worst. Also, I usually use the off-brand macaroni noodles of whatever store I last shopped at, but if you can get your hands on these Hello Kitty noodles, for my sake, use them (and send me the cute-explosion pictures!).
The sauce is made by melting two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and then stirring in the flour, salt, and pepper to make a simple roux/gravy. Once you’ve eliminated most of the lumps from that (it’s ok if a few remain), slowly add the milk, stirring all the time, then dump in the shredded cheese and stir even more until you have a fully unified, thick, cheese sauce (which should remarkably resemble, at least in taste, the orange paste-y mixture you dump onto Kraft mac).
Transfer the cooked macaroni noodles into a greased dish; then pour the cheese mixture over top. Microwave the remaining one tablespoon of butter until runny, then stir in the breadcrumbs and sprinkle the mixture over the top of the macaroni casserole. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden brown, or you can’t stand waiting any longer and have to nom on the cheesy goodness right away (this frequently happens to me).
I don’t have any idea what the calorie content is in this, and I really don’t care to know. I’ve made this mac as a dinner entree before, and it never disappoints in its filling capacity or its deliciousness, but I’d make sure you have a few other sides or a salad on hand in case the above two servings don’t quite suffice.
I’ve always been a Kraft fan, but this recipe has displaced it as the best macaroni-n-cheese, in my book. The final product has a deliciously creamy texture that is never slimey, and I am not exaggerating when I say the topping makes the mac. So don’t hesitate to add more if you think the topping looks too sparse.
There are few recipes that I return to over and over again (hey, I like to try new things), but this is one of them–I just have no incentive to try another mac-n-cheese recipe when this one is already the bomb! Though if you all have other mac recommendation, I’d love to hear them. Merry Christmas and a Mac-ey New Year!