Thursday, March 7, 2013

Creamy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

Disclaimer: This is not a healthy recipe. :)
I have a confession that's a little embarrassing, but has to be said. I am in love with macaroni and cheese. Kraft Mac and Cheese from a box with the yellow powder cheese is one of my all-time favorite meals. I can even eat an entire box all to my self, and all in one sitting... Yeah. It's dangerous which is why I only buy it when Neal is gone and I'm cooking for myself. And the fact that Neal hates mac and cheese from a box doesn't help my "eat-all-4-servings-in-30-minutes" problem I have. :) I've always tried to make my own macaroni and cheese from scratch, knowing it's so much more healthy and would probably taste even better than Kraft (If possible!) but it never turns out quite as good as the stuff from the box. It's never as creamy and the flavor always seems to lack something... So in a contest between working and toiling over a decent mac and cheese compared with a minimal effort dinner from a box, the box always wins. Hands down.
Until this amazing recipe entered my life! And the funny thing is, it wasn't even a recipe! It was one of those miracle dishes that happen when you just start mixing in random ingredients until you taste perfection. Most of the time these type of dishes don't turn out so good for me, so I tend to stick to a recipe. But luck was on my side this time and I made an incredible, creamy, cheesy dish where the cheese actually melts and makes those mouthwatering string things as you're pulling a forkful out of the bowl. You know what I'm talking about?? I decided there are a few different secrets to make a creamy mac and cheese that's not dry, clumpy or non-flavorful. The first is to use half-and-half instead of milk. It creates a creamier texture in the base of the sauce and thickens up beautifully with a little flour and butter. Second is the use of Velveeta. Yes, that weird non-refrigerated cheese from a box that's really not cheese, but makes a dang good cheese dip. And the third is to use a good quality, freshly grated cheese - not that pre-shredded stuff you can buy in a bag. Mm... I wish I would have taken a picture of the final result, but here's one that's pretty dang close. And if this description and picture doesn't make you want to go make some cheesy mac, then we've got some serious issues.. (Note: this recipe makes enough for 6-8 people as a side, and about 4-5 as a main dish)
  • 1 16 pasta noodles (macaroni and shells are my preference)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 8 oz. cube of Velveeta cheese
  • 1 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Dash of pepper
  • Dash of hot sauce
Cook the noodles according to package directions. While cooking, melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a large frypan over medium heat. Add in the flour and stir into the butter to create a thick roux. Cook over medium heat 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until it begins to turn a very light brown color and smells nutty. Add in the half-and-half all at once and stir with a wire whisk to get rid of the clumps from the roux. Simmer the mixture for 8-10 minutes over medium heat, stirring every 1-2 minutes or until the mixture thickens and becomes creamy. Add in the Velveeta in small cubes, stirring to melt and combine. Add in the cheddar and parmesan cheese, stirring to melt. Add in the pepper and hot sauce (optional) for a bit more flavor.
Drain the pasta noodles and slowly stir in the cheese mixture until all of the noodles are coated. It will seem like a lot of sauce compared to the amount of noodles, but you'll want to put every bit of sauce in to make it creamy and gooey! Serve warm immediately, or put into an 8x8 baking dish and bake uncovered at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown and bubble on the top.