Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thrifty Thursday...One of My Favorite Comfort Foods

A friend of mine requested that I post my Macaroni and Cheese recipe. Mac and cheese is one of my absolute favorite things to eat and fun to make. My friend, Brittany, gave me a great idea the other day that she found somewhere. Make the mac-n-cheese in cupcake tins and store them individually in the freezer. This is great if you have kids! Pull them out and pop them in their lunchbox.

I am going to give you my basic macaroni and cheese recipe (it looks long but it is really simple). Then, I am going to give you a list of things you can do to change it up a bit. This is going to be so fun! You can make an entire meal out of mac and cheese...just serve with a green salad along side. So, Jill, here you go : )...

1 lb noodles (I use either Cavatappi or Conchigilie)
1 stick unsalted butter
2-3 tbsp flour
3 cups whole milk (you can use reduced fat but it will not be as rich and creamy)
sea salt (or kosher salt)
4 garlic cloves (smashed but you can leave skins on)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional, but it adds a great flavor)
freshly grated nutmeg (about 1 tsp...this is a key ingredient)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
4 cups sharp WHITE cheddar cheese (you can also do half sharp white cheddar and half Gruyere if you can find a good price on it)
1 cup panko crumbs

Cook the noodles according to the package except cook just short of al dente. So, if the package says to boil for 8 minutes then boil them for about 6. You will really just have to taste test them. You want them to have a pretty good bite to them because they will continue to cook in sauce when you bake it. Be sure to use about 4-5 quarts of water for every pound of pasta and 2-3 tbsp of salt. The salt does not significantly increase the boiling point but it is the ONLY chance you have to season the pasta. Also, do NOT add oil to your pasta water. This does not keep your pasta from sticking AND it prevents whatever sauce you use from coating the pasta. If your pasta is sticking together, then you aren't using enough water which lets the pasta move freely in the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, begin to make your Bechamel sauce. In a medium saucepan heat the milk, garlic and thyme on low-medium heat. Allow it to get warm. Once it is almost warm, melt half of the stick of butter in a skillet. Once melted, sprinkle with the flour. Whisk for a couple of minutes (you don't want it to get dark). Drain the garlic and thyme from the milk. Whisk the milk into the butter/flour mixture (roux). Allow to cook for a few minutes to thicken. Season with salt and nutmeg.

Add 2 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan or other casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cut remaining butter into small 1/4 size cubes and place around on the top. Then, sprinkle with the panko crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until bubbly.

1. Crisp bacon and saute with onions...put on top after Mac and Cheese comes out of the oven.
2. Replace a 1/2 cup of the milk with beer for Beer Mac-n-Cheese
3. BLT - add crispy bacon and sauteed leeks to the mac-n-cheese before baking. Then, top with diced fresh tomatoes.
4. Add crumbled cooked sausage and sauteed onions and bell peppers
5. Add cooked diced chicken and broccoli
6. Add sauteed spinach and artichokes
7. Add sauteed chopped red peppers and onion (and maybe some jalapenos) and switch out half of the cheddar cheese with Monterrey Jack for spicy mac-n-cheese.
8. Add cooked ground beef, onions, crispy bacon, and a tbsp or two of yellow mustard (to the cheese sauce)
9. Add some sauteed shrimp
10. Rachael Ray has a Buffalo Chicken Chili Mac
11. Add pimentos and switch it to yellow cheddar
12. Added chopped corned beef and sauerkraut (you can use rye bread crumbs for topping instead of panko)
13. Rachael Ray even has a Philly cheese steak mac-n-cheese. Now, what could be wrong with that?1
14. Add some sauteed sun dried tomatoes and spinach
Try your own additions and then let us know what you did!!


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