Monday, April 16

The Very Best Mac 'n Cheese

I'm sure by now you've seen a few dozen homemade Mac 'n Cheese recipes, but there are a few things about this particular one that deserve some attention. From the types of cheeses to the way you grate them to the spices inside, every little detail counts. This isn't a super time consuming dish to prepare and the payoff is BIG. 
Start with a classic roux, which is a French method that uses the combination of butter and flour to thicken a cream sauce. Tip number one: use a very light flour, like cake flour instead of all purpose. It will blend better and create a smoother sauce.
Tip number two: please do not be tempted to use those bags of pre-grated cheese. They are entirely too dry for a good macaroni and cheese sauce. Either grate it fresh or if you happen to have a good deli that will shred it for you, go for that. The oil in fresh cheese makes a big difference in the texture of your sauce. You do not want a gritty mac 'n cheese and that's what you tend to get with bagged cheese.
Tip number three: Make it yours with an assortment of yummy spices that you like. Nutmeg is great, but it doesn't have to be the only spice you add. I wanted to to add a few flavors I thought would enhance the nuances of the cheese and it worked great.
Tip number four: Add more cheese. Seriously, there's a lot of cheese in the sauce, but the best part of this dish is the crispy, crunchy crust made with a whole lot more cheese sprinkled on top...
See? How could you not want to eat this entire thing? Please don't do that though...please make it and share it and eat it for dinner three nights in a row, like I did last week. Less is more if more is the number of days you get to eat it.

The Very Best Mac 'n Cheese
1 lb. elbow pasta (plain or whole wheat), cooked and drained
2 T unsalted butter
2 T cake flour
1 C whole milk (this does make a creamier sauce)
1 C freshly grated sharp or medium cheddar cheese
1 C good quality grated parmesan cheese
1/3 C sour cream
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
dash of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, then slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Turn the heat up a bit to medium, being careful not to burn the bottom layer of your milk. You do not want the mixture to boil, just to come to a slight simmer in order to thicken up. Stir continuously until the sauce can coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and add a little over 1/2 C each of the cheddar and parmesan cheeses. Whisk in the spices and stir well until fully combined.
Mix the cooked pasta with about 1/2 of the finished sauce. Pour the pasta into a casserole dish and cover with the rest of the sauce. Top with the remaining cheeses and bake for 20-30 minutes. For a crispier crust, turn on the broiler for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Serve immediately...or cold...or reheated the next day....mmmmmm.
You could easily make this ahead of time and then bake it whenever you are ready to eat!


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