Heidi's Homemade Mac-n-CheeseI’ve been working on a new mac-n-cheese recipe.  My old one was great and everyone loved it but it was lacking just a little something (in my opinion) so I decided to start from scratch instead of continuing to try to work with it and change it into what I wanted (I’ve been working on it for 2 years now, time for a change).

Preoven Mac n cheeseThe best mac-n-cheeses are baked with bread crumbs on top (there goes my opinion again), you can always leave them off to reduce fat and calories.  I will say I tried the new recipe before dumping it into the baking dish and it is very good for those who don’t want to spend the extra time baking it.  If you do decide to do this, cook the noodles just a minute more so they are just beyond al dente, cut the milk by 1/4 cup and the cream by 1/4 cup and serve it up in its wonderfully creamy state. Speaking of creamy, one thing I really dislike is dried out mac-n-cheese. There just really isn’t anything like the ooey, gooey cheesiness of a great mac-n-cheese.  I always add extra milk to make sure mine doesn’t become dried out (this recipe has the extras in it already, so no need to add anymore).

Some people try to take shortcuts with mac-n- cheese but this is one recipe you should take the time with.  It’s comfort food and just homemade goodness, spend the time adding love to it by making a béchamel sauce, yes it takes a few extra minutes to make but it’s really worth the time and effort.  The other advantage to learning to make béchamel sauce is it makes the base sauce for almost any creamy sauce you want such as Alfredo.  You can season it anyway you like to change it up for your recipe.  Just remember that once you start adding the milk and cream, you need to stir the mixture constantly until complete (about 12 minutes) or you run the risk of ruining your sauce.

So, back to the mac-n-cheese.  Like with any mac-n-cheese recipe this one has fat and calories, but I did do a few things to help make it healthier while maintaining the integrity of the flavors (I will say yuck on most healthy mac-n-cheese recipes because they try to cut out the fat and end up with a dried out dish without the creamy texture).  It’s okay to splurge on something occasionally and for me a great mac-n-cheese is one of those foods to do it on.  I used skim milk and half-n-half for the cream, which is doable without harming the dish.  I also used my favorite new noodles from Eating Right (otherwise I normally use whole wheat pasta).  Veggie pasta noodles!!!  Woohoo, you  get awesome tasting noodles made with broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, spinach and a couple more (with the added veggie pasta, this makes a great one-dish meal).  They were wonderful in the dish, I’m not even sure my husband noticed the difference in flavor at all (great way to give the kids veggies without them knowing. Sneaky, but effective!). As for the type of noodles to use, this time I used elbow macaroni but often I use penne or rigatoni noodles.  Just throw in your favorites!

Cooked Mac-n-CheeseThe advantage to this recipe is you can change-up the cheeses as well to get the flavor combo you like.  I do recommend using good quality cheeses because it does make a difference in the texture and I tend to stay away from the processed stuff like Velveeta.  I used a sharp combo for this recipe but if you have kids, you may want to go a little less such as using a mixture of sharp and mild.  The blue cheese I added, gave the mac-n-cheese a wonderful flavor (don’t overdo it, this cheese is potent). Just go with what you like, don’t be shy on the cheese, mix it up!

If you like creamy, cheesy mac-n-cheese with a bit of a kick, then give this recipe a try (if you want less kick reduce or leave out the cayenne pepper).  It’ll have your taste buds standing to attention and begging for more as you experience my wonderful flavors of life.

Heidi’s Mac-n-Cheese

8 oz. elbow macaroni (or use your favorite noodle)

4 Tbsp. butter (use butter, don’t try substituting for margarine)

1/3 cup shallots, finely chopped

4 Tbsp. flour (all-purpose is fine, I used whole wheat pastry flour)

1 1/4 cups of skim milk

1 1/4 cups of half-n-half cream

3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground mustard

1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

1/8 to 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

fresh ground pepper, to taste

2 cups of shredded cheese (I used: 1 cup Colby Longhorn, 1/4 cup Swiss, 1/4 cup blue cheese, 1/2 cup sharp)

1 cup of fresh bread crumbs (I placed some leftover French bread in the food processor until fine)

1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat your oven to 400°.  Butter a 1 1/2 quart baking dish and set aside.  Cook noodles according to package directions to al dente (cook done if you are going to skip the baking step).  Drain the noodles and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the flour, slat, mustard, white pepper, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne pepper and whisk until well blended.  Slowly add the milk and cream, stirring constantly (reduce amount of each a 1/4 of a cup if you are not baking).  Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for two minutes, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and cook while continuing to stir for 10 minutes.  Add the cheeses and simmer for an extra 5 minutes, stirring to blend the cheese into the béchamel sauce.  Sample the sauce at this point to check that the seasoning is right, if needed adjust to your taste.  Remove from the heat.

Stir the noodles into the sauce and transfer the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Toss the bread crumbs with the melted butter and spread on top of the mac-n-cheese.

Bake in the over for about 20 to 25 minutes until sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are browned.

Serve hot.

Yield: About 5 to 6 servings.

http://whisksandruffles.com/2012/08/24/its-friday-and-im-in-love-fancy-4-cheese-mac-cheese/

http://throughsai.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/microwave-mac-n-cheese/

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