Mac & Real Cheese

Having grown up in Wisconsin, I am a firm believer in using real cheese in my recipes. So, when my boyfriend said that Kraft and Annie’s were the best macaroni and cheese, I almost vomited. Yes, I have eaten my fair share of the boxed entrees over the years, but never would I classify them as “the best.” Anyway, hearing that, I was bound and determined to prove to him that homemade macaroni and cheese is far superior. Thus, I combined some recipes I had found online and crafted my own recipe, which he deemed was delicious (and passed the reheat test). It’s quite a bit more work than pouring powdered cheese over pasta, but it’s totally worth it. As far as cheesiness goes, you can add more or less cheese and milk to this after it’s all mixed together in order to meet your desired tastes.

4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup flour
2-1/2 Tbsp. sea salt, divided
1 pound elbow macaroni
3-1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk just to a simmer; turn off the heat and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown in color, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Continuing to whisk constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (Note: The mixture will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out). Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and, while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sea salt, taste, and add another 1/2 Tbsp. of sea salt as desired. Remove from the heat and set aside. In another large pot of water, add the remaining 1 Tbsp. of salt; bring to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook until it’s almost al dente (just on the edge of being underdone). Drain and rinse the pasta with cold water; set aside. Place the reserved saucepan of béchamel (the flour, butter and milk mixture) over medium heat and stir in cheese just until melted and smooth. Add the pasta to the béchamel and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is heated through and steaming, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add more milk for a thinner consistency if desired. Season with pepper if desired. Serve immediately or, if baking, transfer to a 5-quart baking dish and bake at 400° until bubbling and brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes.


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