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.
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.