Monday, February 26, 2007

Mac & Cheese

Last night was one of those nights where nothing sounds appealing. I felt overdosed on tomatoes and sausage from the risotto the other night and for the life of me I could not decide on anything. I finally decided that it had to be meatless and that a cheesey pasta dish sounded appealing. After searching for a recipe that fit this description, I suddenly decided on something that I have only made once or twice, ever - good old mac and cheese.

My one or two attempts to make homemade mac and cheese were met with a very cool reception from both boys. I grumpily decided that if they preferred the gross stuff out of the blue box, I certainly wasn't going to waste time and money fixing them the good stuff. Personally I cannot handle even the smell of the blue box variety, so I've always hoped that some day the boys would change their minds. Fortunately, last night they finally did.

Deciding on making mac and cheese was only half the battle. Next, I had to pick a recipe. No easy task with so many recipes out there and with the clock ticking down closer and closer to dinner time. In the end, I took out a cookbook that I love, but have not been making good use of lately - Cook's Illustrated's New Best Recipe. Sure enough, they had a mac and cheese recipe.

This recipe is a very basic mac and cheese and though it does call for a breadcrumb topping, it really is a stove-top recipe that gets a very brief trip under the broiler to crisp the breadcrumbs (this step can be skipped entirey, if desired). According to CI, the success of this recipe relies on using a combination of cheddar and monterey jack cheeses - cheddar for the flavor and oil, monterey jack for the moisture content and creaminess. Unfortunately we did not have any monterey jack on hand, so I substituted an equal amount of mozzarella - mozzarella also has a high moisture content and I thought it would make the best substitute. In place of macaroni, I had to use what we had on hand - ziti. Ideally, I'd prefer a whole wheat blend elbow macaroni, but the ziti made a more than acceptable substitute.

It did indeed produce a very nice sauce - rich, smooth, plentiful and creamy (even using skim milk) - but it was a little on the bland side. Mac and cheese is a very basic dish - it's not really supposed to have bold flavors, but this one seemed just a little lacking. I'd like to try it with the jack cheese as it has more flavor than mozzarella and it's possible that the jack cheese makes all the difference. I had intended to throw in a few cloves of crushed garlic as the sauce simmered, but forgot - this would be a welcome addition that I will be sure to remember next time. Instead of breadcrumbs, I used panko - my oven must have been too hot, however, because the panko started to burn before it really had a chance to get crisp.

Bland or not, the boys loved it and a little over half the 9x13-inch pan was gone by the end of dinner. I know the boys will still readily eat the "fake" stuff, but at least now they recognize that homemade is better............


  1. Our favorite blue-box replacement is Alton Brown's Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese. Takes roughly the same amount of time as the boxed stuff, and tastes worlds better (real cheese!!) IMHO, the baked stuff is a totally different dish, and not to be compared with the stovetop version. :)

  2. Misty - I will check out Alton's recipe - love Alton! :) Oh, I should have mentioned in my post that this actually is a stovetop version - it just gets a quick trip under the broiler if you want to add a breadcrumb topping. If not, you can skip this step entirely. I decided to try it with the topping, but would be inclined to skip it to make it a one-pot meal.

  3. The mac and cheese that I grew up with was made with a good Swiss cheese and then topped with caramelized onion. Yum! Talk about great flavor. I'm still experimenting to get the consistency right.

  4. Fastfoodie - Yum, we love caramelized onions, but I don't think the kiddos would go for the Swiss. I alternate between wanting something a little more gourmet and thinking that sometimes the basics just hit the spot and shouldn't be messed with too much. :)

  5. I made this tonight after I read your review...we liked it (the texture was really good) but I agree with you it needed a little umph! It definitely needs a sharper cheddar cheese! Thanks for posting this recipe...

  6. CompassRose4:07 PM

    My dad's secret for extra cheddary oomph (he is the mac and cheese maker, though my mother cooks everything else) is a small spoonful of Keen's dry hot mustard powder in the sauce. He always uses Kraft extra-old cheddar and lots of it -- but the bit of mustard really does add sharpness to point up the cheese.

  7. CompassRose - Thanks for the tip - I will try that next time.