Friday, January 11, 2013

Baked Mac N' Cheese

Recently, I was gifted a 14 oz. bag of "horsin' around" pasta, a fun assortment of horseshoes and horses and I was excited to use it, knowing my kids would be happy to eat it. Macaroni and cheese is a big thing around here. From Kraft to Annie's, we've tried them all. But nothing is like a fresh batch out of the oven. My kids have even come to appreciate when Mommy makes it and no longer complain it tastes "home-madey", as if that were disdainful. So I think after a few rough tries, I have perfected the humble macaroni. First, you gotta learn to make a roux. I know, I avoided this like the plague for a while, fearing I wouldn't be able to get it right, opting for heavy cream and too much cheese just hoping it would thicken. What I ended up with?? A too-rich dish that often ended up greasy. So the last few times, I've taken simple recipes, adapted them to our taste and perfected the once-intimidating roux. It's actually very easy to master. A few tablespoons of butter and flour are all it takes! The key is, you've got to let the butter melt in the pan almost all the way first before adding the flour then keep the heat low enough to avoid scorching but high enough that it will "cook" the flour taste out. So, practice first. It really does make perfect. Once you got that down, add milk (about one cup per cup of pasta..) and bring to a slow boil while whisking. Once your sauce has thickened a bit, take if off the heat and add your cheese of choice. Stronger cheeses work better in this dish as their flavors will come through better. Think sharp cheddar or Swiss and Parmesan. Once you have your macaroni and sauce thoroughly combined pour in a dish and top with more cheese and/or breadcrumbs. The topping is as important as the macaroni itself. Who doesn't love a crispy, crunchy topping with more gooey cheese waiting underneath??? So don't be afraid of the roux. Try this at home and you'll see why you don't have to rely on a box to make your kiddo's favorite lunch!Get crackin'.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
12 oz. macaroni or short-cut pasta
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
1 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
Cook macaroni according to directions on package and set aside. Meanwhile, in large pot, melt butter and slowly add flour, whisking to combine. Once cooked, add milk and bring to soft boil. Take off heat and stir in shredded cheese. Once melted, add salt and pepper and macaroni. Pour into 9X13 pan OR two 9X5 loaf pans. (The 9X13 dish will be big so plan for leftovers or make in two batches and freeze one...) Then top with Parmesan. Bake under broiler until Parmesan is brown and crusty. Enjoy!

The roux...