Monday, September 01, 2008

Recipe file: Mac and Cheese

Normally Laura cooks dinner, but I wanted to give her extra spoilage tonight, so I announced I was going to cook. I also announced my menu choice: hot dogs and mac-n-cheese. Laura doesn't care for the KraftMac, so I made homemade macaroni and cheese. I've been fiddling with the recipe for a while, and I've finally hit upon a variation I might stick with. It's in no way a fancy food product -- it's extremely basic Midwestern mac-n-cheese, but it's highly yummy. Feel free to give it a try.

Jeff's Macaroni and Cheese

1/2 lb penne pasta
2 tbsp butter
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs
2 tbsp vegetable (or olive) oil
1 medium onion
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
1 3/4 cups skim milk
2 cups (8oz) shredded 2% mild cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 2-quart (7X11 or 9X9) glass baking dish.
Start boiling water for the pasta. When the water's ready, add the pasta and cook according to package directions; drain.
While the water's warming up, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the bread crumbs to the melted butter, stir until the bread crumbs are coated. Set aside.
Chop the onion medium-fine. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, and saute the onion until it's soft. Add the flour, pepper, salt, and mustard, mix well. Add the milk, bring just to boiling, and simmer until it thickens a bit. Remove from heat, add the cheese, and stir well until the cheese is completely melted.
By now the pasta should be done. Pour the pasta into the bottom of the baking dish, cover with cheese sauce, and top with bread crumbs. Bake 20 minutes.

You can substitute a lot: you can saute the onions in butter instead of oil, you can add a little minced garlic with the onions, you can use any tubular pasta (penne's what I had handy), you can use crushed croutons instead of bread crumbs (in which case, skip the step with the butter), you can use corn starch instead of flour. You can also use any cheese that melts well, and combine cheeses if you like. If you're not feeling cheddary, you can mix gruyere and asiago, or soft manchego and cheddar and a little goat cheese, or any other combination that you like. Personally, I don't like the consistency mozzarella brings to the finished product. And very dry cheeses (like parmesan) make the sauce a bit grainy. But feel free to play around.

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