old classics (macaroni and cheese)


A few years ago, I did some research and then decided to stop eating processed foods. It really hasn’t been difficult, especially after the first couple of months. And I’ve found that most natural products are far tastier than processed. There is one exception, and that is macaroni and cheese. Every single time I walk down that aisle in the grocery store and see all the little blue boxes full of noodles and powdered cheese, my mouth waters.

Photo 10.30.08

Homemade macaroni and cheese is just as good. (Although not really in the same food category – to me, one is a snack and the other is a meal.) This recipe has one optional ingredient that I eschewed the first few times I made the recipe, but eventually decided to try. It’s cayenne powder, and it is such a great addition. It doesn’t make the macaroni and cheese at all spicy, but it does add just a bit of complexity to what can otherwise be a rather one-dimensional dish.


The recipe is from Cooks Illustrated (if you read my blog regularly, you may be seeing a pattern…). They found that the recipe worked best when the whole thing was cooked on the stove, which just a brief visit under the broiler to brown the buttered bread crumbs. Macaroni and cheese served with broccoli is such a great comforting meal.


Classic Macaroni and Cheese (from Cooks Illustrated – no changes)
Serves 6-8 as a main dish

Update 05/05/08 – I recently made the following changes to this recipe. I reduced the monterey jack to 7 ounces and increased the cheddar to 9 ounces. I think 6 ounces monterey jack and 10 of cheddar would be even better. I skipped the bread crumb topping and replaced it with an additional 2 ounces (4 would have been better) of cheddar before broiling.

Update 11/17/08 – I tried the changes in the previous update – using 6 ounces monterey jack and 10 ounces cheddar in the sauce, and replacing the bread crumbs with 4 ounces of cheddar.  It was great!  The sauce was still smooth, but it had a stronger cheese flavor.  I replace the bread crumbs just because I prefer my mac and chz without them.

Bread Crumb Topping:
6 slices white sandwich bread (good-quality, about 6 ounces), torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces

Pasta and Cheese:
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons powdered mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese , shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (2 cups)
1 teaspoon table salt

1. For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread and butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.

2. For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.

3. In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

4. Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9 by 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.



  1. This is the one I make too! SO glad you addicted to CI/ATK like I am. I knew I liked you! 😉

  2. Ooohhh…this looks yummy. I’ll have to try it out.

  3. Mmm, this looks SO comforting and delicious. I have had this recipe on my to-try list for a while now, actually.

  4. I absolutely love homemade mac and cheese, but I’ve never really been a fan of the blue box. Not to say I don’t eat other processed though…

  5. arriba says:

    I plan to make this wonderful sounding macaroni and wonder if the crumb topping stays crunchy after keeping overnight and reheating?

  6. bridget says:

    arriba – I think I usually reheat this in the oven, so in that case, the topping definitely stays crunchy. Another option would be to reheat it in the microwave and then put it in the oven for a few minutes to recrisp the bread crumbs.

  7. arriba says:

    Thanks! Your description makes me want to cook it right now! Definitely on my list!

  8. omgosh I must be in heaven lol.. that looks SOO good, Carm

  9. whatsonmyplate says:

    Thanks for stopping by! I think I used 2% although, it could have been 1% not sure. This deserves a redo 🙂

  10. Jason says:

    Call me crazy, but isn’t pasta a processed food? Looks delish though

  11. Jennifer C says:

    Thanks for a great recipe! I just made it for the second time after the first time was such a hit. Great consistency. I added bacon to the topping and it was to die for.

  12. Well, I didn’t have monterey jack, so I substituted mozzarella, it’s now in the pan with shredded cheeses on top. Looks good, so we’ll see what the tasters say at dinner tonight. It’s already not gritty like other recipes I’ve tried, so we’re almost at a win already.

  13. Did anyone experiment with cooking this ahead of time, freezing and then reheating? Just curious about cooking time and temp and also weather it was as tasty.

  14. bridget says:

    Mike – I haven’t tried it myself, but you should be able to freeze it after combining all of the ingredients. Defrost in the refrigerator and bake, covered, until it’s hot. Remove the foil and broil as instructed to crisp the topping.

  15. made this one last night – forgot to add the salt (thank goodness it’s easy to do after the fact :P), and did the 10 oz / 6 oz recommended. Really enjoyed it, although I think its a little better if it’s put in the oven for a little while (after serving, I threw it into a warm oven for an hour – picking at it before putting it away, I think it was a little better). This will be my go-to recipe now for Mac, though I’m looking forward to playing around with it a little bit 🙂


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