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Help with a Macaroni and Cheese Cookoff

I'm a long-time chowhound lurker, first time posting. My fate in an upcoming Macaroni and Cheese cookoff depends on you wonderful, knowledgeable hounds. Please critique my recipe below and help me ensure victory!

I have my hands on a rather good, yet quite boring Macaroni and Cheese recipe (see below). My roomate and her two incredibly gourmande grade-school aged children (7 and 10) believe it to be the best they have ever tasted. They challenged two friends who pride themselves on their M&C to a cookoff against me. They will be judging along with another friend.

Background information on the judges.

1) Adventurous, food-knowledgeable 40-something woman. Likes mild spiciness. Favourite cheese - Oka.

2) 10 year old child. Likes just about anything and everything except for "hot" flavours including black pepper. Favourite cheeses: blues.

3) 7 year old child. Can not tolerate anything "hot", less adventurous than her sister. Favourite cheese: Provolone.

4) (the REAL challenge) Late 30s man. The polar opposite of a foodie. Eats canned peas and turkey burgers every day for dinner (not an exagerration). No spice whatsoever (will eat basic Italian-ish herbs and garlic and that's about it). Probably a super-taster with a preference towards over-processed foods. Wants to be a judge most likely because of memories of Kraft Dinner (oy). Favourite cheese: mild cheddar.

I need to come up with a recipe that will appeal to all four judges. So far I have come up with the following. Please critique it and let me know if there is anything you can think of that would help improve my chances of winning!

Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups Elbow Macaroni
10 cups Boiling Water
2 tsps Kosher Salt

3/4 cup Chopped Onion
1/3 cup Butter

3 tbsp Flour
Pinch Pepper
1/2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Dry Mustard

2 cups Milk
¼ cup Heavy Cream
1 cup Grated Medium Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Grated Old Cheddar Cheese
½ cup Grated Smoked Gouda

4 tbsp Melted Butter
½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
¼ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 tbsp Parsley

Grease 2 quart casserole dish.

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes and then drain (pasta should NOT be fully cooked).

Sautee onion in butter in large saucepan until clear and soft.

Sprinkle onion with flour, pepper, paprika and mustard. Cook for 1 minute (flour should not brown).

Mix and stir in milk and cheese until it boils and cheese melts.

Add macaroni, mix and turn into casserole.

Mix bread crumbs, melted butter, parmesan cheese and parsley and sprinkle on top.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

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  1. Hey, I am all for bribing the judges...throw in some of those canned peas!

    Seriously, I think it is a looking recipe. I would mincing the onions as fine as possible mysel, if not grate. That is again, with the turkey burger guy in mind, seeing those onions might put him off.

    And I would go with an aged gouda, but not a smoked one. (again I think it would set off the turkey burger guy). Have you considered a mellow cheese like Comte?

    Good luck, sounds like a fun contest. Let us know the results!

    1. I've made a lot of homemade mac n' cheese that needs to appeal to a variety of tastes - I think you're on the right track.

      Here are just a few suggestions: So you know the last guy likes cheddar - some might consider this taboo, but what about the processed american or old english cheddar? It's not spicy, it's pretty bland and boring -the smooth melting quality might remind him of his slightly boring Kraft palate - and you'll still get a good cheese flavor.

      Also, for those girls who like the jarlsberg and gouda (hmm...gouda, my favorite) - could you do 1/4 of a cup of gouda and 1/4 of guyere? Another smooth melting cheese and will give a good hearty slightly nutty quality without negative points from Mr. Late 30's man?

      Also, I'm assuming your panko crumbs are for the topping? To make it slightly crunchy/crusty and delicious? Could you maybe do 1/4 cup of crushed ritz crackers or townhouse crackers (and either decrease the amt of melted butter or keep the same) for the richness flavor? and 1/4 cup of panko crumbs? Or even 1/4 cup of crushed old dutch potato chips? Just a few thoughts.

      Another possibility for the 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese -is to get that tub that is a combo of asiago, parm and romano? Since it is such a small amt - I would think if you use TRUE parmesan -the tang of a real parm might create a face? But a combo of all three might be enough to throw him off and focus on the cheddar aspects while the other 3 judges can sense the flavor coming through?

      Also, what about a few dashes of hot sauce? I know you said he despises spice, but in a quantity like that, the hot sauce would only liven up the other flavors you have going out without Judge #4 even noticing.

      Also, I know if he's bland- probably things like diced tomatos, etc. is out of the question -any thoughts on adding fried pancetta? or adding a few pieces in the crust topping?

      1. Your M&C recipe looks good to me. I'm partial to the addition of muenster cheese.

        Your judge descriptions were a fun read...I could almost hear a "game show" theme playing in my head.

        Good luck!

        1. You folks officially rock btw. Keep the suggestions coming.

          The one response I have thus far is regarding the hot sauce suggestion of snoboardbabe77. The two girls don't like hot stuff along with Mr. Late 30s so that has to be out.

          I *do* think one of the other competitors is going to go with his standard reciepe which I know includes siracha sauce.

          BTW clarification - I accidentally wrote jarlsberg as being the 7 year old's favourite cheese when in reality in is provolone (I believe).

          I think the non-smoked gouda is a go(u)d idea too! :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: elkerette

            Sneak a slice of good old processed american cheese to add to the creaminess. It melts so well and might help it stay smooth.

            in making mac and cheeses using a bechamel I find that the flavor of milder cheeses could get lost so I usually go for a very strongly flavored cheddar. For the same reason, and also cause i love the cheeses, I add Gruyere and parmesan cheese to the bechamel since they are strong nutty cheeses that won't get lost.

            Also, add a small pinch of cayenne to the dry mustard. It definitely won'tbe enough to make it spicy but be a good addition.

          2. I was going to share my story (I did below anyway) and then realized most of your tasters don't do spice...I'm sorry. But for your personal enjoyment anyway, I'll share my Mac fave: Well, I'm not as gourmet as most Chowhounds but I do enjoy making a Chipotle Mac and Cheese. It's got penne, light alfredo sauce, cheddar, monterey jack or a jalepeno jack, the chipotle and it's adobe sauce. the hotter you want the more chipotle. Of course that might not sound fancy but if you have experience and it sounds like you do then just the 'idea' of chipotle mac could be an inspiration...good luck!

            1. Your recipe looks very similar to the recipe I've been using. My husband's tastes are very similar to the Mr. Late 30s and he loves this version of mac and cheese I make. I add just a bit more flavor for my preference and my husband can't tell the difference. The only difference in our recipes is the cheeses.

              Majority of the cheese that I use is sharp cheddar, than a little bit of Asiago and a small portion of ripe Stilton. My husband would not touch anything near a Stilton on it's own but, he loves this combination.

              It probably wouldn't hurt to make a few batches a head of time with some suggested changes, just to see how it's going to taste. Hehehehe!

              Good luck, let us know how you did!

              1. i think your recipe looks great, too--it looks like it will appeal to all of your judges. i second the recommendation for using crushed crackers or potato chips for the topping--panko is great but using the extra grease and salt of crackers and potato chips gives it a really homey, yummy crunch.
                you might try adding in a little gruyere to appeal to the children, who seem to have more adventurous cheese tastes. it melts so wonderfully and can just add a little subtle deeper flavor to the other cheeses.
                i don't know if this is out of bounds since it's adding extra ingredients to the basic mac&cheese structure, but what i do to make macaroni and cheese extra-yummy is crumble some bacon in right before turning it in the oven, as well as some sauteed portobello mushrooms. it sits in your stomach like a ball of lead for like two days afterwards but it's really good, especially if your judges are bacon fans.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ginqueen

                  All four judges live for Bacon which made me think of at least sauteeing the onions in bacon grease.

                  Unfortunately, one of the other competitors is a vegetarian, and to keep things fair, we are not allowing the use of meat.


                2. Not being a jerk -just clarification here -I did see the "no hot stuff" for your judges, but depending on which kind of "hot" sauce you use -it's a flavor enhancer, like it releases more of the flavor of the other ingredients (here, cheese) without making things hot. Just a few dashes, say like you would worchestershire sauce is what it does -not necessarily making it hot.

                  Like what calla said about stilton - just a smidge - I could not see Late 30s man liking a stinky cheese like that, but just a little might enhance the flavors of everything else you have going on!

                  Let us know how you do in the competition!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: snoboardbabe77

                    I understand where you are coming from regarding the small addition of a hot ingredient to add to the total flavour while not making the dish actually "hot". It is something I will definitely consider along with the stilton siggestion.

                  2. Looks good to me- fun contest! I agree about not using smoked gouda. I find that dry mustard is the key to a good m&c. I'd just be sure they all like onion, or that could throw it off. Good luck!

                    1. my recipe has some of your ingredients but we differ on spice and some cheese etc. i just won a mac off two weeks ago against four competitors so i will pass along a tiny bit of info.....when you grease the pan, put panko crumbs in the bottom as well - provides extra secret crunch factor, never use aged cheddar - it gets way too greasy and separates when it melts, a shake of tobasco/a pinch of cayenne will not call attention to itself but will round out the flavor. and straight parm mixed with panko for the topping will not be too strong! good luck.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: djk

                        Only on chowhound could the description of a highly competitive macaroni and cheese cookoff among friends be taken seriously AND include a reply from someone who did the same a few weeks before!

                        I love the idea of the secret layer of panko in bottom and will probably use it!

                      2. Check out the 365 recipes books on PAsta, they have a great mac and cheese recipe. Whole Foods also has a great creamy mac in their deli.

                        1. Although slightly off topic, has elkerette considered checking for culinary resources at Robards Library, part of Canada's #1 post-secondary institution?

                          1. Alton Brown had a great episode on making mac & cheese a few months back on "Good Eats". A worthwhile recomendation from the show was to bake it in a round casserole dish (a souffle dish would work), because this eliminates 'dry corners'.

                            1. Definately leave out the smoked gouda, not that some with crackers doesn't sound good. The idea of using ritz crumbs really does have more appeal than panko. My mother used fine cornflake crumbs on her m&c, it was so good, Everyone used to fight over the crunchy edges. I'd give anything for a big bowl right now. Good Luck! Can't wait to hear the results.

                              1. I echo the asiago and gruyere suggestion-- great melty cheeses, add some nice flavor without taking over the dish. Dried mustard is also key (as is a pinch of nutmeg, in my book-- it's totally subtle, but maybe that still would turn off the spice-averse?)

                                With all these mild cheeses, you'll want to taste for salt of course. (I notice it isn't in your recipe, but you might well want some--a lot of mac & cheeses turn out slightly boring not because they don't have nice cheese flavor, but because there's not quite enough salt to bring it out.) I'm not usually a big salter but mac & cheese is one of the four things I think takes a decent amount (along with corn, mashed potatoes, and eggs).

                                1. I use fontina and swiss, with grated parm/romano blend in a herbed bechamel. whole wheat crumbs on the top , not buttered. and use mostaciola noodles. nice combo for flavor and texture.

                                  1. You might want to try the leb version: mash 1 large garlic clove with salt in large bowl. Add 3 T tahini, mix well. Gradually add 3 T water, blending thoroughly, then add 3 T lemon juice. Blend well. When macaroni is cooked, drain and rinse inn cold water. Add 2 T chopped parsley and macaroni to tahini sauce and toss thoroughly. Eat hot or cold.

                                    1. Thank you all so much for your help with this... I did end up making something very similar to the recipe above (substituting mild gouda for the smoked gouda).

                                      You can see the results of the competition in my housemate's youtube video (I was contestant C - aka the woman in the blue shirt whose Mac n' cheese was on the multicoloured dessert plates)


                                      The sight of my housemate's youngest daughter singing the Mac n' cheese song she made up is worth the time of viewing the video alone!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: elkerette

                                        Congratulations to you!!! And looks like you all had fun (and some good mac & cheese which always makes any occasion better).

                                      2. I have added some of that Campbells Cheddar cheese soup to my m&c along with grated cheddar, some munster for that stringy effect and some edam or fontina. I will also add some canned tomatoes, mix in casserole dish top with grated cheese mixture (reserved before mixing with other) and sprinkle some bread crumbs ontop. I then bake it in oven till the top gets nice and crispy (even burnt!)
                                        The cheddar cheese soup gives a great additional flavor and creaminess to the whole thing.