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atarah09's avatar

Best recipe for CHEESY macaroni and cheese...?

Asked by atarah09 (254points) November 6th, 2011

Can anyone provide me with a cheesy mac & cheese recipe? This will be my first Thanksgiving spent with my boyfriend and his family, and I’d like to take something other than cheesecake. I have just recently became more active in the kitchen, and I figured I’d make something good for the special occassion.

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18 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t know what you know, but I’m assuming you know how to make a white sauce or a roux. I like to brown my flour before adding my milk and/or cream. Cream, of course, makes it really rich. I also spice the roux with curry and oregano and nutmeg and salt and pepper. Then I add the milk and cream and make it to little bit thick consistency. Kind of like cold maple syrup in flow, I guess.

For cheese, I use two or three different kinds. Mostly I use a really sharp cheddar—aged as many years as I can find (5 years is the oldest I’ve seen around here). I also add some Gruyere and then a bit of an aged Gouda, if I feel like it. I might consider aged provolone or reggiano parmesan.

So I grate as much of that as I think I can stand (sorry, I do this all by feel and have no idea how much of anything I use). The more cheese, the better is my motto. Then I dump the (cooked) macaroni in, stir, and serve with more nutmeg (or Edna, as my kids call it) to grate on top.

I am not a fan of baking macaroni and cheese, nor of bread crumbs or whatever else people do with it, but of course you could do that if you wanted. Depends on what your audience is expecting. This is not something anyone would appear with at a Thanksgiving in my family. We go for more of the New England tradition. I believe mac and cheese is more of a Southern thing for Thanksgiving? No telling, though. People move all over the country and traditions are all jumbled up.

marinelife's avatar

My good friend Wundy is barking up the right tree.

I do disagree with him about baking. Th baking is what turns a sauce over macaroni into an actual dish. There is an alchemical change that occurs that makes it wonderful.

I also agree about using different kinds of cheese. Three is nice; four is better. I would definitely make one of them a good Italian parmesan reggiano and one an aged cheddar.

Nutmeg is a classic spice. I now, instead, use a dash of hot sauce. Just a hint!

I have put bacon in, but, frankly, I think it makes for overload on the fatty goodness scale.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

atarah09's avatar

@wundayatta- Oh, wow. It’s obvious that you’re an expert. I guess I should’ve added that I only know the basics. I know how to follow step by step instructions, and that’s all. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m eager because I get married in 2 years! So, no I don’t know how to make a white sauce of a roux, nor do I know how to brown flour. I just buy flour from the store and add it to whatever recipe I am following. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right about now! Lol

atarah09's avatar

Thank you! You do the same; I am always looking forward to Thanksgiving! And I love hot sauce :)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I don’t make a white sauce for mu make and cheese and always get good reviews. Lot’s of good cheese. usually a farmers cheese, cheddar and a little parmesan, butter, and add milk before baking. 30 minutes at 350F. Easy and good.

marinelife's avatar

@atarah09 OK, so now we know what you need.

Melt three Tbsps butter in a saucepan. Mix in three Tbsps. flour. and cook a few minutes (longer if you want Wundy’s brown roux). Mix in about two cups either whole milk or half and half (or a combination of the two). Add in the salt and pepper and whatever spices you are using. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Then add in the grated cheeses (about 1½ cups – 2 cups total; make at least 1 cup of that aged, sharp cheddar).

Have cooked macaroni ready (about half a package dried macaroni). Use a fancy shape like penne or rotini and have it cooked slightly less than al dente (because it will continue cooking in the oven).

Place the pasta in a buttered casserole dish and cover with the cheese sauce. (Then, if you must, put buttered breadcrumbs on it, but I, like Wundy, do not.)

Place casserole in a pre-heated 350 degree over and cook for 30–40 minutes.


atarah09's avatar

Oh, wow! Thank you so much, I REALLY appreciate this. Such a big help, thank you, thank you!

WestRiverrat's avatar

@wundayatta and @marinelife have the details pretty much how I do it, I use an extra sharp white cheddar, baby swiss, limburger and mozzarella. Sometimes I add leftover diced ham or crumbled bacon to the mix too.

Sometimes I like it baked sometimes not, variety is the spice of life after all.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Put some mustard pounder in the roux before you add the milk. This makes the cheese sauce taste much more cheesy (and not mustardy at all like you imagine).

bkcunningham's avatar

I love my mac and cheese hot. How do you plan on keeping it hot while transporting and prior to dinner being served? I hate to throw that out, but I have tried keeping the mac and cheese hot in a crock pot and it always gets ruined. Just something to consider. You sound so excited and have gotten some fabulous and delicious advise. I’d just hate to see it clumpy or cold before the big presentation.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I agree with what @wundayatta wrote and also the tip @Lightlyseared wrote about the touch of mustard powder, it really adds a little bite to the cheese as if you’d used extra sharp cheddar without the expense.

wundayatta's avatar

Oh yes. @Lightlyseared has a good suggestion. I use mustard powder, too, but forgot. My spice drawer is right below my cooktop and I just look in there and rummage around for what is needed, so I don’t actually have to exactly remember what I’m doing. Cook’s memory, I guess.

I want to make some notes to @marinelife‘s suggestions. She wrote: “Melt three Tbsps butter in a saucepan. Mix in three Tbsps. flour. and cook a few minutes (longer if you want Wundy’s brown roux). Mix in about two cups either whole milk or half and half (or a combination of the two).”

I want to say that the variability in techniques should be reassuring. You can do things in any number of ways, and it will still come out fine. I’m going to talk about some of the differences in the roux step between her and me.

I melt the butter, and actually prefer to use a higher fat content European butter, but that’s not necessary. It is important to note that if you want to brown the flour, you must stir it constantly. Otherwise it will burn. Stir constantly and you can get to any color brown you want safely. If you are on a gas stove, you can turn the heat off whenever and, except for the heat left in the pan bottom, you will have no new heat. If you are using an electric stove, you need to take the pan off the heat. This is important because once the flour is to the right color, you need to stop heating it instantly or it may start to burn. Constant stirring helps prevent burning.

I turn off the heat when it is brown (love the smell—so nutty) and add my herbs and spices at this point. Then, still off the heat, I add my milk and cream. This is particularly difficult because you must add the liquid slowly and must constantly stir. If you don’t, you’ll get huge lumps.

I add maybe a quarter to half a cup of milk the first time. Stir it in, then more, and as it gets thinner, add more liquid at once, then stir it in, add more, stir it in, etc. What happens is that when the liquid and fat and flour mix, it thickens up. It thickens really quickly at first, if you pan is still hot. Later on, you will finish by putting the pan back on the heat and bringing it close to a boil. If it is too thick, you add more milk, very slowly, until you get to the right consistency. Then add the cheese.

Sometimes I do a continuous pour of the milk into the roux, stirring and stirring. That’s only when I’m pretty adventurous, or impatient. The key is to keep the lumps away and you have to stir really vigorously to do that. I use a flat wooden paddle, because it will reach into the corners of the pot. You can use a whisk, which will do a better job of keeping the lumps away, but it doesn’t get things in the corners of the pot. If you have too many lumps using a spatula or spoon, you can fix it with a whisk later.

Ah well. Method. No wonder I’m a methodologist, and there’s so much I don’t know.

john65pennington's avatar

Martha Stewart had a recipe in our local newspaper three weeks ago. It looked good enough to eat the page.

Type in her name and macaroni recipe. I am sure you will love it.

Let me know, okay?

Kardamom's avatar

Macaroni and Cheese


½ box of box Barilla Penne Pasta (this is enough to fit into one of those round casserole dishes that are about 8 inches across and 5 inches deep). The box is 1 lb. so use half of the box.

1 Tablespoon, plus 1 Teaspoon Olive Oil (divided use)

1 Cup shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese (anything from Trader Joe’s will work) or if you want a lower fat version, use half Sharp Cheddar Cheese and half low fat cheddar (Trader Joe’s has one that is 75% less fat)

1 Cup Whole Milk (or if you want a lower fat version, use 1% or even fat free milk)

¼ Cup All Purpose Flour

¼ Cup Butter (or Smart Balance Buttery Spread)

Panko Bread Crumbs

½ Cup chopped Onions

1 Cup chopped White Button Mushrooms

½ Teaspoon dried oregano

1 slice of crumbled cooked Bacon (or if you’re going for a vegetarian dish, use 1 slice of crumbled cooked Morningstar Farms Fake Bacon)


Cook your pasta, until just al dente, drain but don’t rinse, then put the pasta back into the cooking pot and stir in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, so the pasta won’t stick together. Set aside

While your pasta is cooking, sauté your chopped Onions in 1 Teaspoon of Olive oil until they become translucent, then add your chopped mushrooms and add the dried oregano and sauté until they just start to brown, then turn off the heat and set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees

Make your roux by heating up your milk in a microwave safe container (like a glass measuring cup) in the microwave until it is warm (you don’t want to start with cold milk). Melt your butter (or Smart Balance Margarine) into a large sauce pan, over low heat (make sure it doesn’t burn) then slowly add in your flour, while stirring constantly (over low heat) then start adding in your milk a little bit at a time, while stirring constantly. This mixture will start to thicken up. (Note: I usually heat up more milk than is necessary just in case I need to add a little bit more, if the paste is too thick. You will need to constantly stir this mixture over low heat for about 8 to 10 minutes. Just make sure that it doesn’t boil or burn. Then pour in your shredded cheese and mix thoroughly. Then add in your sautéed mushrooms and mix thoroughly. Mix in your Bacon or Fake Bacon Take off the heat.

Next, pour your cheesy, mushroomy roux over your noodles (which are still in the other pot) mix thoroughly. Pour the whole shebang into your casserole dish, which has been sprayed with Pam.

Sprinkle Panko bread crumbs over the top of the macaroni, not too thick, just to give the whole surface a light coating.

Put your casserole into your 425 degree oven and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the Panko Bread Crumbs are golden brown, be careful not to burn.

The mushrooms, bacon and sharp cheddar cheese make this dish super cheesy and savory.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Practice any dish you’re going to make for a big family meal (like Thanksgiving) beforehand. I say this from experience.

BeccaBoo's avatar

I add onions or leeks to mine, also instead of breadcrumbs, I sprinkle the cheese on top and grill, it forms a crispy cheesy topping…...lush!!

Aethelflaed's avatar

Is it all macaroni and cheese that doesn’t keep well in the fridge, or just Kraft’s blue box stuff?

Kardamom's avatar

@Aethelflaed The kind made from the box (whether it’s Kraft or Trader Joe’s or Annie’s), tastes quite different after it’s been refrigerated. Not sure why, but homemade mac and cheese tastes just as good or better after it’s been in the fridge and re-heated. That’s why, when I make Kraft, or other boxed mixes, I usually don’t make the whole box at one time. I love Kraft mac and cheese, but it has a completely different taste and texture than home made baked M&C, although I love both kinds.

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