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I love mac n’ cheese. (Who doesn’t?) My one quibble, though, is that my favorite recipe always seems a tad fussy to make on a weekly basis. Not sure what it is. Just one too many steps? The sense that if I didn’t follow the method, I wouldn’t end up with as tasty a dish?
Regardless, I opted to try out Half Baked Harvest’s recipe from her cookbook I was gifted. Her method was unlike any I had seen, and I’m completely converted. She makes the roux, adds the milk, some water, then boils her noodles in the sauce!!!! YES!!!! One less pot! And let me tell you, it was tasty. Very tasty. I’m definitely going this route from now on and feel much more confident going solo (that is, recipe-free) in the future.
Confession(s): I didn’t completely follow her proportions. She uses a lot of cheese. A lot. Too much for me for a weekday meal.* And I didn’t use Ritz crackers.** But the whole point of this post is the genius technique, not necessarily the ingredients. But I’m going to give you the recipe anyways, don’t you worry!
The cheese-maker’s Mac and Cheese
7 tbs butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
2 cups water
1 lb macaroni
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups crushed Ritz crackers
4 oz cream cheese***
1 1/4 cup shredded sharp white cheddar
1 1/4 cups shredded fontina
1 cup shredded havarti
1 cup shredded smoked gouda
1/4 tsp cayenne
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 350.
In large saucepan,**** melt 4 tbs butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Gradually whisk in milk, then add 2 cups of water and macaroni. Stir. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook until pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Meanwhile, melt remaining 3 tbs butter in medium skillet. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant. Add cracker crumbs, and stir to coat. Cook for 3-5 minutes more, stirring constantly, until nicely browned. Remove from heat and set aside.
When macaroni is al dente, turn off heat and add cream cheese, cheddar, fontina, havarti, gouda, and cayenne. Stir until all the cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper. (I used about 3/4-1 tsp salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.)
Transfer mixture to 9x13 baking dish. Place on a baking sheet (to catch any dripping) and put in oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes crumbs are browned and sauce is bubbling. Let sit 5 minutes, then enjoy!
*Too much for a weekday meal. But mac n’ cheese totally passes as a decadent meal for a holiday, celebration, or spectacular meal for a postpartum mom. In those cases, the more cheese the better, and of higher quality for extra luxuriousness.
**Instead of Ritz crackers, I used bread crumbs. Other crackers (I’m thinking Saltines) would likely work just as well too. Skip altogether and you’ll have a fine tasting dish, just with a crunchy pasta lid instead.
***The recipe I used previously called for one pound of cheese for one pound of pasta. That was sufficiently cheesy for our tastes. I stuck with that using Half Baked Harvest’s method, and it was delicious. As Half Baked Harvest says, you can substitute other types of cheeses than the ones she calls for. I’ve never left cheddar out all together, but have thrown in others. This time, I went a half pound sharp cheddar and a half garlic herb jack. Delicious. I didn’t use the cream cheese either.
****Use a large enough oven proof skillet or dutch oven and save even another dish! Woot woot!