Box-free macaroni and cheese

19th April, 2011 - Posted by admin - Comments Off

A friend of mine, who should really know better, recently discovered that she doesn’t know how to cook. Turns out, boiling water and opening a box doesn’t really help with, say, baking. It’s also not good when trying to switch to a diet with less processed foods and processed foods are the only kinds you know how to prepare.

Most of us learned to cook by opening boxes and boiling water, some never get past that stage. If you are interested in expanding the cooking repertoire while still making a familiar dish, then this column is for you.

Homemade macaroni and cheese is a thing of beauty. Rich, creamy, cheesy with a slight crunch from the breadcrumbs on top; there’s a reason why the stuff in the blue box sells so well, even if it is a pale imitation.

This dish can be made in advance, either by preparing the components separately and putting everything together at the last minute, or by assembling up to the point it goes in the oven holding it in the refrigerator until dinner time.

If elbow macaroni is too pedestrian, feel free to branch out with something else. The only guideline is that the pasta has lots of surface area to catch the cheese sauce. Penne pasta or spiral pasta would work just as well. The noodles used in the photo are radiatores, so called because they resemble little radiators.

Don’t spend extra on fresh pasta for baked dishes. Dried pasta that has been boiled prior to baking is a better choice, the noodles soak up the sauce much better and hold up under the longer heat exposure.

The sauce is a basic roux mixed with milk, cream cheese and cheddar. Some recipes call for Velveeta in addition or as a replacement to the cheddar cheese. I like to leave that design up to the cook. Velveeta is mostly oil and isn’t something that most cheese experts will even acknowledge. However, it does melt very smoothly and will never break into oily clumps. Some people like to add a little as insurance for a smooth sauce.

The mustard helps bring out the tanginess of the cheddar. If the cheese seems tangy enough, use about half. The cheese flavor will be enhanced without any mustardy bite.

Once everything is assembled, bake until golden brown and delicious. Personally, I find this dish a little too rich for a main course, but it’s perfect for a side dish – especially with a glass of white wine and a salad.

Home Style Macaroni and Cheese

7 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter or margarine
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons country-style dijon mustard
2 cups (8 oz) cubed cheddar

Topping:
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat oven to 400. Cook and drain pasta. Melt butter in large saucepan and stir in flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally till smooth and bubbly, about 1 minute. Stir in milk, cream cheese, cheddar, salt and pepper, and mustard. Cook and stir about 3-4 minutes till sauce is thickened. Stir in the cooked macaroni. Pour into 2-quart casserole. In small bowl mix the bread crumbs with butter and parsley and sprinkle over the mac and cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes or till golden brown and heated through.

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Posted on: April 19, 2011

Filed under: Dinner, Sides, Vegetarian

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