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Mac n' Cheese- fool proof recipes needed!

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For some reason, my homemade mac n' cheese NEVER comes out right. Perhaps I dont cook the roux long enough? Basically, here is what I do:

Make a roux (butter, flour-cook for a min or 2) + milk+ some nutmeg, garlic, pepper, salt
add in the cheddar cheese (or gouda)
add cooked noodles.

This always ends up grainy tasting and not that creamy, comforting taste I'm looking for.

Any suggestions? What am I doing wrong here?

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  1. Try cutting back on the flour a little and cooking a little longer... not so long that it browns though. Also, I usually skip the nutmeg and add a little cayenne for mac n cheese.

    1. sounds like you have the right mix.

      I have taken to using whole wheat flour for my roux... and I tend to cook it for a little less than 2 min. You may want to try cream instead of milk, and try adding the seasoning to the roux, also I add a pinch of dry mustard. then add the cheese slowly, stirring the whole time.
      also i add about a tablespoon of the water from the noodles to my mix before tossing it all together.

      1. I tend to cook the roux longer, but that probably isn't causing your problems. You are probably heating the cheese too much or for too long. Using grated cheese helps (more suface area for faster melting at the same temperature) and lots of (gentle) stirring with low heat.

        Another thing to try is adding a bit of an acidic ingredient to discourage the cheese from separating. Sherry goes well in cheese sauce. A dry white wine wouldn't hurt either, or a little white Vermouth. Things like Dijon mustard or white Worcestershire sauce might help a little too since they contain vinegar. (And isn't mustard itself an emulsifier?)

        You still have to be careful with the heat; the only fool proof cheese sauce is Velveeta!

        2 Replies
        1. re: HPLsauce

          roux definately needs to be cooked more than a minute or two, to well, cook it, no flour taste, no graininess, develop the richness and depth. Mind you cooking it longer does not mean that it should "color" so watch your heat level.

          Strikes me we just did a thread on Mac and Cheese, Alton Brown's was mentioned as a good strandard recipe. He uses condensed milk. Try a search for it here.

          1. re: Quine

            Just a clarification -- it uses evaporated milk. Condensed milk is the sweet stuff.

        2. Made this foolproof recipe AGAIN last night. I never got mac and cheese right, until now. Unconvential, unhealthy and unbelievable. I'll never go back and am totally confident to serve to guests. I add seasonings and extra leftover cheese.

          The Lady's Cheesy Mac Recipe courtesy Paula Deen
          Show: Paula's Home Cooking
          Episode: Fire House Pot Luck Dinner

          4 cups cooked elbow macaroni, drained
          2 cups grated cheddar cheese
          3 eggs, beaten
          1/2 cup sour cream
          4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
          1/2 teaspoon salt
          1 cup milk

          Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
          Once you have the macaroni cooked and drained, place in a large bowl and while still hot and add the cheddar. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and add to the macaroni mixture. Pour macaroni mixture into a casserole dish and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Top with additional cheese if desired.

          4 Replies
          1. re: MDM

            What kind of seasonings do you use?

            1. re: Babette

              I use a bunch of herbed sea salt, cayenne and a little hot sauce.

            2. re: MDM

              This is one of my kids favorites! I make it whenever my husband is going to be gone for the evening. I throw in some chopped ham and maybe some veggies. It's good.

              1. re: MDM

                Thanks for posting this. I like how quick it goes together. It was creamy, but I didn't find it particularly cheesy (and I used a bit extra cheese.) Next time I think I would add some Parm. and extra grated on top at the end.

              2. After years of making mac'n'cheese either by the mac/milk/butter/cheese method (as in the Sterns' "Square Meals" School Cafeteria recipe) or by melting cheese into white sauce like my mom always did, I did this. And my wife said, "I'd like you to make it this way from now on. Please."

                It helps if you live where there are lots of Latino markets. Amounts are approximate, as always:

                8 oz. dry elbow macaroni

                1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
                1 small fresh pasilla pepper, stemmed and seeded and chopped fine (wear rubber gloves!)
                butter or margarine or olive oil, or any combination of same
                1+ cups Mexican table cream, or 1 1/2 cup heavy cream or créme fraiche
                2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, or combination of your faves
                3 Roma tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, chopped coarsely
                salt, pepper, whatever else you like

                buttered panko or other crumbs, with or without grated cheese

                For the sauce, heat enough of your chosen fat to cook the chopped onion and pepper to softness, and do so. Black pepper and any dried herbs should be added during this part. Raise the heat, pour in the cream, stir. If you're using Mexican cream, it will thicken quickly. When it does, remove it from the heat and melt the cheese into it, stirring just enough to blend. If you're using any other cream, you will need to keep stirring for ten minutes or so - adjust heat so it doesn't scorch - until it's reduced and thickened, then proceed as above. Stir the chopped tomato into the cheese sauce and keep it warm and covered, but not too hot.

                Preheat the oven to 350º. Cook the macaroni just to the al dente stage, drain, and combine with the cheese sauce. Grease a baking dish of the appropriate size, pour in the mac, top with the buttered crumbs and set uncovered in the middle of the oven for about twenty minutes, or until it's hot and bubbly. Turn on the broiler at the end if you want, just enough to brown the top a little.

                I've also done something roughly similar with evaporated milk and egg, but this is a bit easier I think, and it's rich, very smooth, and tasty. The pasilla pepper adds just a very subtle spiciness.

                1. My Mac and cheese always turns out really well. I mince up an onion and cook it in butter before adding the flour. let the oniony roux cook to a light brown add milk, cheddar. pour over rotini and then i usually bake it for about 45 minutes to an hour. It's never grainy and I love the carmelized bits at the edge of the pan. It's when i move away from this formula that it can get funky.

                  1. Sounds like you haven't stablized the white sauce (bechemel) mixture before adding the cheese and other ingredients. That's why the sauce became grainy and separated.
                    Cook the roux (butter and flour) till it's turned very light brown. (You need to cook the flour taste out.) It should smell nutty if you stick your nose close to it. I think it will take more like
                    5 minutes over medium-high heat. Then, gradually (meaning, ladle by ladle) add your *heated" milk in. Keep whisking and the mixture will thicken and become glossy. Only then is it time to add the grated cheese and other flavorings. I think it's terrific you use nutmeg. But I'd lose the garlic and the pepper and only use salt to taste (both the cheddar and the pasta have plenty of salt). Last, as mentioned, the addition of a teeny amount of Colman's Hot Mustard (this is a powder) will add both flavor and kick, as well as act as an emulsifier so your sauce doesn't become grainy.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      The proper bechamel is made without browning the flour at all. To cook the flour completely, you stir the completed sauce over very low heat for at least fifteen minutes - the old cookbooks say half an hour! - but if the mac'n'cheese is going to be baked, five to ten minutes should do it, since the baking will finish the cooking (and the same goes for the macaroni, which is why you should stop cooking BEFORE it's quite al dente, if you're a purist). Then, for the cheese sauce, the grated cheese is stirred very gently into the white sauce OFF the heat, and kept no more than warm until it's combined with the macaroni.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Agreed, don't brown the flour. But cook it till it's ivory colored, or blond.
                        And you're right, use a low heat. Others may disagree, but
                        I don't want to stir a sauce 30 minutes to cook the flour when
                        a few extra minutes cooking the roux alone to a blond stage
                        will do the trick as well as adding nuttiness and other flavor.
                        Good point about keeping the mac al dente.

                    2. I recently asked CH about problems with my mac n cheese and got very good advice -- to add cheese to sauce after removing from heat and adding some cream cheese -- small size or more, whatever you like. I also stopped adding sauteed onion. Before, mine was coming out a bit greasy, separating. I use Ina Garten's recipe, only with the addition of the cream cheese. I also like to use cavatappi instead of elbows, more elegant. I bake it in a red Mario Batali lasagna pan -- a beautiful sight!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: walker

                        i also use cavatappi! soooooooo much better...

                      2. I've made mac and cheese quite a few times using different recipes and never got the consistency I looked for. Then I found the recipe below and made it for a birthday party a few weeks ago - went against one of my entertaining rules and tried it the first time on the day of the party - and it was great. Rich and creamy and not healthy at all but worth it.

                        I'm posting the original recipe I found, but here's all my caveats - I cut down on the garlic and took out the parmesean, chile sauce and cumin. And I cooked the pasta for just about 5-6 minutes instead since I didn't want it to overcook once I put it in the oven. And one addition - doing less cheddar and actually adding some Velveeta. I know Velveeta breaks all the rules but in the end this was the best mac and cheese I've had.

                        I also didn't have the size baking dish the recipe calls for so instead baked in a Le Crueset dutch oven.

                        1/2 pound butter, plus extra for the baking dish
                        1 1/4 pounds elbow macaroni
                        2 cups heavy cream
                        2 cups whole milk
                        1 small (1/4 to 1/3 pound) onion, diced small (about 1/2 cup)
                        4 cloves garlic, minced
                        1 cup flour
                        5 cups (1 1/4 pounds) shredded sharp cheddar
                        8 slices American cheese, broken into small pieces
                        2 cups (1/2 pound) grated Parmesan
                        3 tablespoons green hot chile sauce
                        1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
                        Kosher salt
                        Freshly ground pepper
                        1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

                        Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9 by 13 by 4-inch baking dish.

                        Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and cook the macaroni until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

                        In a small bowl, combine the cream and milk.

                        In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the 1/2 pound of butter and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Add the cream mixture in a steady stream and whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes.

                        Stir in 4 cups of the cheddar, the American cheese, 1 cup of the grated Parmesan, the hot pepper sauce, and cumin. Stir until all the cheese has melted; the sauce will be very thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

                        Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the pasta. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar, then the Parmesan, and finally the bread crumbs.

                        Bake uncovered on the middle shelf for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and brown on top.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: pellegrino31

                          The best mac and cheese recipe I have found is the one from Alton Brown. It always turns out great.

                          1. re: mels

                            Yeah, the Alton Brown creamy stovetop mac n cheese is easy, delicious and completely foolproof: it seriously doesn't take any longer than Kraft from a box (since you can assemble the sauce ingredients in the time it takes the macaroni to cook). Plus, if you want a crust, you can just spoon it into a baking dish, sprinkle it with breadcrumbs and put it in the oven for a few minutes (I actually put it in individual ramekins and put them in the toaster oven). I haven't tried putting it under the broiler (without the breadcrumbs) but that would probably be good, too. I usually use half cheddar and half something like gruyere.


                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I am so glad I suggested it! Glad to see I got an endorsement!

                              I just use up all the cheese 'crumbs" I have, usually cheddar, aged gouda, Cypress Moon..

                              1. re: Quine

                                I'm just returning the favor: I learned about it on a similar chowhound thread myself!

                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I use Cook's Illustrated based on John Thorne's recipe (itself based on a 1937 classic) that is the same style using evaporated milk and eggs. It is so much more intense than the recipes that use a bechamel sauce base and you only need one pot to boil the pasta and mix in. This version is more saucy with more milk and cheese than Alton's. I made it Saturday using 1/3 extra sharp cheddar, plus domestic romano, smoked Blarney Castle, gruyere, and regular Blarney Castle. I grated the cheeses ahead of time, measured out the salt, dry mustard, and pepper into a covered rubbermaid bowl large enough for the wet ingredients, then packed up the rest of the ingredients for a double batch, a big pot and a colander to take to the host's home. I brought the water up to boil and then turned off the burner, and asked our host to give me 10 minutes notice of when the meat would be coming off the grill for the main course to prep my side dish. And, that's all it takes to boil the pasta and throw it together.

                                My friends were fascinated when they saw me messing with cans of evaporated milk and cracking eggs. This was an uncharted recipe style, and the requests for it have been rolling in now that they've tasted the results. The gorgeous cheese course arrayed on the sideboard (~$50 worth of artisanal stuff and a jar of mostarda) was still untouched by the time I left at 11pm. I felt sorry for the cheesehead who was so generous to bring it but he confessed that he had been back in the kitchen helping himself to more mac and cheese. As he said, he can have those cheeses any time, but an outstanding dish of mac and cheese is a rarity to be savored.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Ah, but the beauty of this recipe is that it's so darn easy it doesn't have to be a rarity. And you can probably throw it together from what you have in the pantry (and the odds and ends in your cheese bin). The only thing that I don't reliably have on hand is the evaporated milk, but that's easy to add to the list of pantry staples if you want to have this recipe in your repertoire.

                          2. Try the basic Mac n' Cheese recipe in the Gourmet cookbook ... it worked perfectly for me. AND the breadcrumb topping recipe for it was fantastic.

                            1. That little blue box has always been pretty foolproof for me ;)

                              Sorry I can't help, I don't like the other kind as it seems the pasta is always overcooked & I must have it al dente ...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: foiegras

                                Will you please supply more details on the amounts (ideally in weight) of cheese,both Velveeta and cheddar.(Here in Canada "large " may mean something else.) Thanks.Tom

                              2. This recipe below will be scandalous to some. But for me, and I say this lovingly, white trash Mac-n-cheese is always the best. Perhaps because I, too, grew up on the little blue box. While I am no longer as huge as fan of that, I also have a hard time with ‘fancy’ Mac-n-cheese... breadcrumbs?? Please. Mustard? Say what? (grin) The recipe below I had at a friend’s house at my high school graduation 20 some odd years ago. I have been making it ever since, I have served it at the finest of dinner parties and it remains one of my most requested/demanded recipes. Even the food snobs love it, there simply is nothing better. And it is about the only thing I ever make, save Brisket, that has anything processed or not organic. But it is worth it. Don’t try to change it, I actually did try to make it healthier and it just is not the same. Also, it gets better by the next day, so it is easy to make before hand. You can serve it in one big casserole or also spoon it into individual ramekins and bake/serve it that way.

                                MACARONI AND CHEESE

                                - boil and drain 1 lb. package of large elbow macaroni
                                - While the pasta is boiling, in a separate pot, over medium heat, melt:

                                2 sticks of butter
                                1 can of Pet Milk
                                1 large block of Velveeta (!) cut into cubes

                                - Be careful as it melts, you must stir it and keep and eye on it so the bottom does not burn.
                                - Add to the sauce:

                                Lots of salt and pepper. Seriously, taste as you go, but you need a lot. As well as a few liberal shakes of Tabasco and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. You should see flecks of pepper in the sauce and be able to taste the Tabasco and Wooster

                                Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir. As you stir, add one large package of sharp, cheddar cheese, grated.

                                Pour into a large dutch over or individual ramekins and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

                                This also freezes beautifully.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Tom P

                                  Oh, Tom you are such a heathen. Sounds delicious and simultaneously indestructible.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Ha! I am laughing so hard - indestructible indeed. I am not sure how long it sits in the stomach, days maybe. But it is delicious, I promise.

                                  2. re: Tom P

                                    Will you please supply more details on the amounts (ideallyy in weight) of Velveeta and cheddar.Thank you.Tom

                                    1. re: Tom Bj

                                      I am just going from memory. I believe the Velveeta is 16 oz. Basically, in the store, there are two sizes of Velveeta. a smaller block, which I am almost positive is 8 oz, and then the large block, which I am pretty sure is 16 oz. Just get the large block. You will know it when you see it. (And I will check the next time I am at the grocery.) As for the cheddar, when you are at the supermarket, there are usually 2 cup packets of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. That is the side you want. Ask anything else, I promise it is worth it.

                                    2. re: Tom P

                                      Tom, this is perfect. I was looking to make white-trash mac n cheese with velveeta this week. One question though...can I sub regular milk for the can of Pet?

                                      1. re: Tom P

                                        I tried Tom P's recipe last night and it is fantastic, in that kind of wonderfully trashy/fake cheese kind of way! It hits the spot! Seriously, it is one of the best mac and cheese recipes I've tried - I just reheated a brick of it and it's even better the next day!

                                      2. Here's a link to the baked version by Delilah that was voted the best on Oprah,

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          Hi Melanie,
                                          Have you tried this recipe? I live in Philly and purchased some mac and cheese directly from Delilah's stand at the Reading Terminal Market (I believe it recently closed). I must say, upon tasting it I was very underwhelmed.

                                          Just curious about how the recipe worked out, as I too have a copy of it that was published in the local paper. Thanks!

                                          1. re: Laura D.

                                            No, I haven't made it. I had seen the Throwdown episode and thought of it.

                                            Just reading the recipe, it seems like it would be fairly mild and in the oozy, custardy, non-challenging, comfort food style. Sound like what you tried? For myself, I'd prefer stronger cheeses than the mostly mild ones in this recipe for more flavor impact.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              Well, I'm not sure if my assessment of it was completely fair or not, given that I took it home and thus had to reheat it, but I found it to be very dry and pretty boring in flavor. It wasn't particularly cheesy either, which is upsetting given that there is a good amount of cheese in the recipe. If something is going to be bad for me then I at least want it to taste like that, and this did not. When I saw the recipe in the paper I was actually suprised that what appeared (on paper, anyway) to be a nice blend of cheeses turned out to be so flavorless. I definitely would have prefered the oozy, custardy comfort food you described above, but alas didn't get that. Again, in all fairness, I think I should probably try it again, and eat it on-site as opposed to taking it home and reheating it, in order to make a final judgement. But, I will say that what I tasted didn't leave enough of an impression on me so as to make me want to go out and possibly waste both time and money making a recipe that would come out as "boring" as what the stand was selling. Perhaps someone here has made it and would like to prove me wrong, though. Thanks!

                                        2. By far the best macaroni and cheese I have yet to make is a recipe from the New York Times. It is easy to make and uses uncooked elbow noodles. To find it do a search using "creamy macaroni and cheese" and "new york times", the date it was published is Jan. 4, 2006. You won't be disappointed.

                                          1. Not exactly sure what you are doing wrong, but for my money, the very best mac and cheese that I have ever made is Patti LaBelle's "Over the rainbow macaroni and cheese" which you can find the recipe for on Oprah's website...try it...you can't go wrong with this recipe....

                                            1. I do a sort of bahamian mac n cheese, that's rather lowfat and impossible to kill. I use macaroni noodles ... Or bowties, pinwheels, etc ... In one of my pathetic cravings for comfort food I even used angel hair because it was all I had. I apologize I don't have measurements... I just eyeball things according to what I feel like.

                                              I usually use about 1/2-3/4 box of mac.

                                              Equal amounts of chopped celery and onion (I usually do one onion and a matching amt of celery). Chopped jalepeno to your liking (can also use some red peppers for more color) I usually use 3 and leave the seeds. Season with pepper to taste.

                                              2 8-oz bags of shredded cheese blend (I use the 2% milk kraft kind) and any other cheeses I have around and feel like tossing in. (gouda, romano, etc.)

                                              1 can evaporated milk (fat free)

                                              2 eggs (eggbeaters)

                                              Cook the pasta of choice. Drain and return to pot. Stir in 1 bag (or even 1/2 bag if you don't want it too cheesy) of the cheese - plus any of the extras, veggies evaporated milk and eggs. Mix well. I usually leave the heat on low and get half the contents all over the stove. So, might be better to mix unheated in a big mixing bowl, I'm just not too logical. Transfer to baking dish that's been sprayed with PAM. Sprinkle remaining bag (once again, only need about 1/2 but I like it cheesy) of cheese on top. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes (or longer, I like it burnt around the edges, so I cook for closer to an hour). I often mix fat-free cheese in, or use rice cheese or pepper jack as well.

                                              1. I love the Gourmet recipe posted on Epicurious. It has never failed me. It can be made exactly as is, or you can blend in other cheeses and add other ingredients like pancetta or ham if you wish. It is easily cut in half too. I often use it to clean out the refrigerator of old cheese odds and ends. I''ll freshly grate the Parmesan and usually have decent Amish wheel cheese on hand if not grafton or cabot sharp cheddar and a Spanish sheep's milk cheese of some kind. My only major modification is that I saute a small minced onion in the butter before I make the roux and I cook the roux/milk mixture for about 4 minutes. I also add the pasta slighly undercooked but pretty wet because as another poster noted, a little extra water ensures that it stays creamy. (I like using Barilla Plus spiral pasta) And adding a little truffle oil never hurt anything. If you have them, panko bread crumbs do make a better topping than the suggested regular bread crumbs.