It's sad that announcing that I’m going to make macaroni and cheese for Christmas dinner evokes an areyouserious stare because it is always assumed that macaroni and cheese comes out of a box. And when I do say I’m making macaroni and cheese from scratch, it garners wide-eyed wonder. “You’re making macaroni and cheese from scratch?” Why yes, why wouldn’t I make it from scratch? It makes me sad that yes, now I must append “from scratch” to avoid that bluebox assumption. We never have to say I’m making steamed rice...from scratch. I’m making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich...from scratch. Of course we make those things from scratch. But there are things that we just don’t make from scratch anymore. Before it ever became Kraft’s darling in the blue box, macaroni and cheese was a real food that you really had to cook, you know.
(Actually, if you go into the Korean market now, they sell vacuum packed steamed white rice that you pull open at one corner and heat in the microwave and I have also seen tv commercials for those horrible things they call Uncrustables – but I won’t rant about either of those today.)
The bottom line is that with certain things, like macaroni and cheese and ramen, the prepared, pre-packaged, instant stuff is the norm. Sad.
I shouldn’t be so bitter, since I’ve made macaroni and cheese from the blue box before. But! I can count on one hand the number of times I turned to the blue box, and they were all during those desperate college years when I also ate instant “just add water” ramen.
Making macaroni and cheese from scratch is not complicated, and probably takes no more time than the boxed stuff – cooked pasta mixed with a cheese sauce. However, I’ve only ever made macaroni and cheese on the stovetop, never made macaroni and cheese that is baked in a casserole dish. Christmas 2005 was the debut of my Baked Macaroni and Cheese. Actually, it was a first-time experiment, but I can’t scare my guinea pig family like that. ;)
Baked macaroni and cheese is almost the same as stovetop macaroni and cheese, with an increase in the amount of milk since it baking in the oven for half an hour is potentially drying. I also had to add eggs to the cheese sauce because eggs are what “bind” everything together in the casserole dish.
Eggs. Oh, those wicked little eggs.
Everyone knows one cannot just simply crack open an egg into a hot sauce. The eggs will freak out. They must be tempered. I had to temper my eggs into the hot cheese sauce, but the wicked little eggs had effin' temper tantrums twice before finally on the third try, they finally decided to play nicely with the very hot cheese sauce and incorporate themselves without scrambling into a cheesy egg drop soup in my bowl.
Effin’ wicked little eggs. *grumble*
The macaroni and cheese looked good, and according to the family, it tasted good. It was much less creamy than the macaroni and cheese I’ve made on the stovetop, but it certainly looked more appetizing, burbling and gurgling in the casserole dish under a blanket of toasted, crispy, buttery breadcrumbs. But I’m still bitter about the eggs’ temper tantrum. Twice. Stupid bratty little eggs.
*eh* I’ll get over it. Eventually.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook 1 lb. pasta to just-under al dente. I used penne, but I have learned my lesson. Sometimes, you shouldn’t mess with tradition. Use elbow macaroni. Drain and rinse if you want. The whole dilemma of whether to rinse or not to rinse pasta is pointless here.
Melt 4 Tbsp. butter (that’s ½ stick or ¼ cup) in a large sauce pan. Cook ½ medium to large onion that has been super teeny minced, or you can get smart and use the smallest holes on a grater. When the onion is cooked (5 to 7 minutes), sprinkle 4 Tbsp. flour over the onions and butter and continue cooking for another 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp. dry mustard and 1 Tbsp. hot sauce.
Now here’s a little story to interrupt this recipe. We cooked Christmas dinner at my parents’ house. When I asked Mom for dry mustard, she said she had dry green mustard. That’s wasabi, and that might have been okay if I were making a Wolfgang Puck Asian fusion ginger sesame macaroni and cheese (which sounds absolutely nasty), but I wasn’t. So I asked her if she had plain mustard, which she didn’t, but she did have little mustard condiment packets in a giant plastic tub in the refrigerator door that she always saves from whatever takeout/order-in she and my Dad do during the week. Not only did I have to substitute regular mustard for dry mustard (which is dangerous because the acidic vinegar could curdle something), but I had to substitute with mustard packets!
If you are in a desperate situation like I was, use 4 to 5 mustard packets. I was a little bitter about the mustard packets, so I doubled the hot sauce (Tabasco) to make myself feel better.
Pour 4 c. whole milk into pot and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes while continuously whisking. Salt and pepper to taste.
Temper and add 2 large eggs.
Remove sauce pot from heat. Add 5 c. shredded or grated cheese and stir until melted. I used half medium Cheddar and half Monterey Jack. If you want to get fancy, get fancy, but remember, this is macaroni and cheese.
Add cooked pasta to sauce, stir until it’s all one big pasta and cheese orgy, then pour it all into a buttered 2 quart casserole. You can also use a 13x9” pan, but you might have some macaroni and cheese that won’t fit into the pan. No problem. Just eat it.
Bake for 20 minutes
Cover the top with ¾ c. breadcrumbs mixed with 4 Tbsp. melted butter and ¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 10 more minutes until it’s burbling, gurgling cheese and the breadcrumbs are toasted.