Growing up, when we would friends over after school, occasionally one would stay for dinner. I remember one time that one of my friends hung around long enough to get the dinner invite. When my mom brought out dinner in a steaming 9×13 pan, my friend looked confused. “What IS that?” she whispered to me. “Macaroni and Cheese” I said back to her, not understanding her confusion. “Macaroni and Cheese?” she queried, “ours never looks like that…”. “Oh, it’s homemade.” I nonchalantly said as I helped myself to a heaping spoonful, cheese stretching out between my plate and the pyrex dish. Her jaw seemed to drop to the floor. “I didn’t even know you could make it, I thought it always came from a box” she quietly said under her breath.
That was an eye-opener for me. It was a moment when I realized that my generation (and now my kids’ generation) are different when it comes to exposure to the culinary arts. Now, I don’t believe this is a common occurrence. Especially now, there is a great movement back to scratch cooking and real food. But, mac n’ cheese will always be one of those comfort foods that is SO much better homemade, and it’s not even hard. I see macaroni and cheese recipes pinned on pinterest, passed around on facebook…crockpot recipes, Martha Stewart’s recipe, Paula Deen’s recipe…can I just tell you…macaroni and cheese is one of the easiest homemade recipes to master, and every decent recipe out there is just a variation on the basic recipe: basic cheese sauce over cooked noodles.
This recipe isn’t even my mom’s. I use hers every once in a while, but I like this one best, and it has less steps.
EASIEST MACARONI AND CHEESE
4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
3 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (mild or sharp, depending on your preference)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
16 oz. package macaroni noodles, cooked
additional shredded cheese (optional)
Make a Roux by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then adding the flour. Whisk together and cook while whisking until it turns light brown. Slowly add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, vigorously whisking out the lumps after each addition. (Click on the roux link for more guidance, if needed). Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add the cheese, stirring until all the cheese is melted. Add the cayenne pepper. Pour over the cooked macaroni. You can serve it at this point, if you’re in a hurry, or you can fancy it up by baking it. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour macaroni and cheese into a 9×13 pan. Cover with more shredded cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes, until bubbly.
ALLERGY alert: This can be made gluten free by using rice pasta and subbing a gluten-free flour for the wheat flour. If it doesn’t sufficiently thicken, you can add a combo of 1 TBS cornstarch + 3 TBS cold water to the mix while it is boiling (before adding the cheese).