Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Finally! The famous macaroni and cheese -- the basic version
After our winter Owl House gathering, people asked me for the mac and cheese recipe (I made three versions) and I haven't made it until now to be able to measure the ingredients. So...finally...here you go.
While making the sauce, cook 1.5 - 2 cups of elbow macaroni, to just barely under-done
Cut one block of extra sharp chedder cheese into chunks. The better the chedder, the better the sauce, but cheap chedder works fine. You do not need to cut it small or grate it. It will melt just fine if it is in chunks.
Save out the end of the block of cheese (about 1 inch) to grate for the top of the casserole.
Grease a small glass casserole dish with olive oil.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter/margarine in a non-stick frying pan.
If you are going to use onions and/or fresh garlic, add one small chopped onion and at least two crushed cloves of garlic and cook on low until the onions are translucent. If you use fresh onions/garlic you may find you need more butter when adding the flour to start the sauce
Slowly stir in 2-3 heaping tablespoons of flour. Stir and cook on low until smooth, less than a minute. This will be fairly dry...you just want to cook it until the flour is not visible as powder. If you accidentally add too much flour, add a little more butter/margarine.
Slowly add about 1.5 cups of milk (half and half if you are feeling decadent). You will probably add another 1/2 cup later to keep the sauce smooth, approximately 2 cups total.
Once smooth and lump-free, add:
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of garlic powder if you did not use fresh
1 tablespoon of dried onion if you did not use fresh (optional)
About 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano. You can also use dried basil if you prefer.
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (Note: you can also use shoyu/soy sauce instead for a different flavor, but if you do, use LESS and add SLOWLY to taste, and do not add additional salt without tasting)
The cut-up cheese
Cook on low until smooth.
The sauce should be smooth--not runny or milky, but not overly thick and clumpy. If the sauce is too thick, your mac and cheese will be solid rather than creamy. It it is too runny, the casserole won't really set (although it will still make great leftovers)
Add additional milk, salt, pepper, garlic etc to taste. The sauce should not be salty, but it should not be blah/tasteless either.
Note: I add a thick slice of Velveeta if I have it to smooth out the sauce. Not enough to taste the cheap processed cheese--just enough to keep the consistency from being grainy.
Drain the macaroni. Do not overcook or it will be mushy after being baked.
Place in casserole dish. It should fill it just over 1/2 of the way. Do not overfill...you can always add more pasta after adding the sauce if you want.
Pour the sauce carefully over the macaroni and mix in.
Cover the top with panko crumbs (this recipe originally called for crushed up Ritz crackers. Panko is easier) Be generous. Take a fork or knife and mix the panko just barely into the surface of the casserole.
Scatter the remaining grated chedder over the top.
Bake in a pre-heated oven, 350, until it is bubbling, and the cheese is melted and the panko is slightly golden, about 20 minutes.
If you make a larger casserole, baking could take up to 1/2 hour.
Remember, everything is already cooked. You do not need to over-bake this.
Take out of the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. This is important.
Bacon. Cook the bacon to well-done, in advance. Drain and aggressively pat away oil with a paper towel. Chop into small pieces (but not crumbs). Add to the sauce about 1 minute before assembling the casserole.
Fresh tomato. Chop into bite-sized pieces and drain. Add to sauce about 1 minute before assembling the casserole.
Broccoli or asparagus. Steam until just tender but with some crunch. Drain, and add to the sauce about 1 minute before assembling the casserole.
You can replace 1/2 of the chedder with quality smoked gouda. Bacon or sun-dried tomato goes well with this cheese combination.
Mild jalapenos can also be added if you like spicy.
Things that don't work as well:
Spinach will entirely permeate the sauce flavor. If you like Florentine, go for it. But if you want veggies and cheese sauce (two distinct flavors) pick a different veggie. I haven't tried kale. That could be an option.
Canned tomatoes. No matter how well you drain they also will change the flavor of the sauce, and will have little texture. Use fresh.
If leftovers are dry, just add a very small amount of milk and mix in before microwaving.
If you expand this recipe, you do NOT need to add more butter/margarine and flour to start. More milk and more cheese will keep the sauce thick without needing more butter/flour.
Done from the oven:
I've tweaked this recipe which came from my mother. I asked her where she got it, and she told me it was on the macaroni box! So much for secret family recipes. Hers is the best