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Jun 27, 2010 10:10 AM

Simple and delicious mac and cheese recipe?

Hi everyone
I am having a fourth of july party. I want to make a great mac and cheese dish...I have been searching on line and cant seem to find one I really like. I saw ina g's recipe for mac and cheese, although it looked delicious, I want to keep the ingredients simple (because of cost, and there will be a few children at the party ). Any suggestions? I love mac and cheese with a home made bread crumb topping...and a 2 or three types of cheese.. but I do not know measurements etc. I will be having 20 + people at the party.
Any help will be greatly appreciated!!

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    1. Google Patti Labelle's macaroni and cheese. It is incredibly rich and makes a large amount. You could, to economize, easily use fewer cheeses and/or reduce the amounts and still have an impressive dish. Either pre-cut portion lines in the casserole or let everyone know that it is very rich, so they start with a small portion rather than leaving half of their plate uneaten. I think I would reserve some of the cheese and make a second, more "diluted" pan for the children.

        1. re: chowser

          +1 for AB's mac and cheese...the only somewhat quirky ingredient is the evaporated milk which I NEVER seem to have in the panty when I want to make this great recipe!!!

          1. re: Val

            There's nothing quirky about the evaporated milk. It keeps the cheese from getting grainy. So does inclusion of Velveeta or other processed cheese food. If you don't have any of these and use regular milk, you need to make a bechamel to accomplish this.

            1. re: greygarious

              Thanks, good advice...I should have said "quirky for ME"--the only other food I make with evaporated milk is pumpkin pie.

            2. re: Val

              I keep it around now for that and for tres leches cake. It has come in handy on mornings when I've run out of milk for my coffee, too. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.:-)

          2. Although maybe not so notoriously as with chili, Mac & Cheese is one of those dishes that people like a certain way. My family recipe is actually very simple, involving only macaroni layered with cheddar and/or other cheeses, salt and pepper, and then heated milk is poured over it to about halfway up the sides of the vessel just before baking. But then, and shockingly to many people, we also put ketchup on it at the table! That must compensate for what might seem like too much simplicity to some people.

            Most Food TV recipes and the like make a big deal out of doing bechamel sauces and getting all kinds of cream or cream cheese in there. I've tried those approaches several times, but those are just too rich for me.

            So could you suggest how rich you like a Mac & Cheese to be? That might help people in suggesting spot-on recipes.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Bada Bing

              BB - My family has always used the more complicated bechamel version. My son and his friends LOVE mac & cheese but I sometimes just don't have the inclination or time to go through the whole bechamel process.

              Not that it's complicated but you have to be in the mood to whisk - know what I mean? I'm hoping you will share some tips on what seems to be a simpler method of feeding a house full of teenagers....

              Do you use a standard 9x11 baking dish? What type of macaroni - plain elbow or do you alternate varieties based on what's in the pantry? Do you boil the pasta to just before al dente to avoid mushy pasta?

              Assuming you are using a full pound of pasta - Approxiamately how much milk and how long & at what temp do you bake it for?

              I find that a lot of standard commercial cheddars get that oily break down or almost worse - grainy texture - if you're not careful with the melting process - since you're melting directly in the oven do you have a brand preference for cheddar?

              Do you add a crumb topping at the end?

              Sorry for what must feel like an inquisition but thanks in advance for your clarification!

              1. re: chicaraleigh

                Hi, Chica: sorry I didn't notice your queries to me in this thread until now. To answer your queries: I use either a low-sided square Corning-ware dish (maybe 10"x10" or, if I want more quantity, I use a tall square Corning casserole dish (dishes like my Grandmother used). But any dish should work. I'll use elbow or sometimes penne pasta. I don't have a brand preference for cheese. About cheese texture, I'm not totally sure what you mean by grainy texture, but perhaps in fact that is part of what we get, and we just don't mind. Where the apparent goal of bechamel style preparations is to get a creamy, velvety cheese sauce, ours turns out more like something you'd find in a lasagna. That is, if you take a forkful, you'll notice a bit more cheese on one part of the fork than you'll see on another part. I wouldn't call it grainy, but the cheese is not melted into a uniform smoothness.

                The method, in case you're still interested: boil 1 lb pasta until almost done, then drain and give a quick rinse under cold water if you like (if no rinse, the resulting mac & cheese will be okay but will have a starchier character); grate anywhere from 10-16 oz. cheddar cheese; gently heat about 1.5 quarts milk in a saucepan (you can skip heating the milk, but that slows the baking process; I use 2% milk); then assemble the casserole by taking a third of the pasta and layering it into the dish, sprinkle a third of the cheese over that, then add salt and pepper, then repeat until all the ingredients but the milk are used. Finally, pour the milk over the pasta, trying to moisten as much of the top cheese as possible. The milk should come approximately halfway up the side of the dish, even a bit more. If I'm using a shallow dish, I bake it all uncovered at 350-375 for about 30 minutes, until the dish bubbles and the top layer is starting to get crisp. If I'm baking a deeper dish, I cook it covered for about 25 minutes and then finish it uncovered for 20 minutes or so more.

                The result is very unlike "creamy" mac & cheese. But obviously, it literally is mac & cheese, and I keep making it this way even after trying many other fancier approaches.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  Wow Bada, that is exactly how I make mine (well, I do add dollops of butter between the layers)! Just wondering how you came upon this method, my German great-grandma made it this way and was passed down from that side of the family. My SO was horrified the first time I made this, so now I do the more tradional bechamel/crumb topping (Ina and Martha's) and save the other for when I am just cooking for myself:)

                  1. re: BubblyOne

                    I learned from my mother, so I called her to ask where she learned it. She got it from her mother, who came from European (mainly Irish) immigration into the USA back in the 1800s. My Mom speculates that my Grandmother might have got the recipe from 1930s cookbooks, when she herself was a young wife.

                    Next stop: I'll have my Mom teach me her mother's creamed tuna, hard boiled eggs and biscuits recipe...

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Interesting, thanks for the reply. And I will be sending this thread to my SO, who claims that this it is NOT "macaroni and cheese", lol.

                      1. re: Bada Bing

                        I haven't made this, but here's a 100-year old recipe for baked macaroni and cheese. This looks similar to many current mac n cheese recipes.

                        From the 1910 Gold Medal Flour Cook Book
                        page 47

                        Baked Macaroni, with cheese

                        3/4 cup macaroni, broken in pieces
                        2 qts. boiling water
                        1 tablespoon salt
                        2 tablespoons Gold Medal flour
                        2 tablespoons butter
                        1/2 cup grated cheese
                        1-1/2 cup scalded milk
                        1/4 cup buttered bread crumbs

                        Cook the macaroni in boiling water for twenty minutes;
                        drain and blanch with cold water. Make a white sauce of the
                        butter, flour and milk. Add seasoning to the sauce. Arrange a
                        layer of cooked macaroni in the bottom of a buttered baking
                        dish; sprinkle with the grated cheese, repeat until all the
                        macaroni and cheese is used; pour over the white sauce, cover the
                        top with buttered crumbs and bake for twenty minutes in a hot
                        oven, or long enough to give the top a nice brown.

                        Pdf copy of cook book available online free at - link:


                      2. re: BubblyOne

                        My Mom makes her mac n cheese similarly. Always using Tillamook medium cheddar. She makes a quasi bechamel by melting a sick of butter in a pan adding a rounded 1/4 cup of flour, S&P to a paste then incorporates the milk. Before it heats she then pours it over the layered mac n cheese. Its comfort personified for me. Although when I make it, 1/3 of the cheese is Velveta :-)

                      3. re: Bada Bing

                        Bada Bing - thank you soooo much! The boys are going camping next weekend and will surely want to be fed when they get home. I will definitely try your method and report back. Thanks SO much for all the details!!!

                    2. re: Bada Bing

                      I thought that I was the only person in the world who put ketchup on my mac and cheese. Whenever I tell people or they see me add it, they make the most disgusting face and look at me as if I'm nuts. I haven't ever been able to get anyone to try it .. not even my husband.

                      My mother ate it that way, so that's how I grew up eating it... The vinegary tomato flavor of the ketchup, brings the mac and cheese to a whole new level. As much as I love it, without ketchup, mac and cheese is bland.

                      Try it, you'll like it.

                      1. re: Canthespam

                        I used to put catsup on my mac & cheese as a kid, too. I remember that when my dad would do baked mac & cheese, he'd put both bread crumbs & some chopped tomatoes in it -- not something I cared for at the time, but I think I'd enjoy it more now as an adult.
                        My own kids have become conoisseurs of the various packaged mix versions, since it's a quick & easy lunch they can prepare themselves. I like the Annie's Naturals mix when I can find it (not so greasy); the kids prefer Velveeta Shells & Cheese -- but we learned the hard way NEVER to get the Dollar Tree version of "deluxe shells & cheese" -- the cheese sauce is so dried-up & fake-tasting!
                        I should try making mac & cheese from scratch again sometime -- I certainly usually have various kinds of boxed pasta shapes sitting around the kitchen (orphaned from the last time I made pasta salad or the last Cook's Illustrated pasta dish I made, or just stuff that looked interesting in the marked-down bin at the supermarket). An evaporated milk-based sauce would be the way to go for me -- easier than a roux, and canned milk, unlike cartons of half & half, will wait patiently without spoiling until I'm ready to use it.

                        1. re: Canthespam

                          You're definitely not the only ketchup user for Mac & Cheese. Some time ago I queried Chow about this and was amused (and hardly surprised) to see how polarizing the practice is. For those that don't already love it, there's reflexive shock and horror.

                          Critics of the practice don't seem to bother bringing any anthropological curiosity to it, probably because ketchup has no classy connotations and no credit as exotic for most of us.

                      2. Macaroni and cheese can be anything from a watered-down staple; redolent of cheap cheese and evaporated milk -- to a luxurious mixture of home-made pasta, heavy cream and lobster. The OP specified that this dish is to be an economical one, however.

                        I suggest, for 20 persons:

                        2 cups (two sticks) of butter
                        2/3 cup flour
                        2 Tbs. onion powder (don't use real onion; use the powder -- it's for flavor)
                        Lots of black pepper

                        2 quarts of half-and-half or light cream

                        3 pounds of good cheese (we prefer mild cheddar or Colby; you can use any combination so long as they're relatively dry, hard-curd cheeses; grated)

                        8-10 pounds of dry macaroni, cooked and drained "radiatori" are best but elbows will do.

                        Make a roux by melting the butter and whisking the flour in. Do not brown this roux; just cook until the flour foams in the butter. Add the milk/cream and then seasonings, then bring to a simmer. You can put this in a baking dish that will accommodate it, and fire it up in a 400-500 degree oven to put a crust on top.

                        If you want to add bread crumbs; saute them in butter (or bake 'em in butter) in a volume more than you think you'll need (it's good to make this layer 1" deep atop the casserole) and then bake at about 300 for an hour.

                        Serve plenty of stewed tomatoes on the side...

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: shaogo

                          Interesting looking recipe, Shaogo. How would you describe the effect of the onion powder?

                          Among the alternative recipes I've tried was one from Lynn Rosetto Casper's Splendid Table radio show. There the (fresh) onion really didn't work for me, and I am, in general, a great fan of onion:


                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            The onion powder (rather than grated onion or onion juice) for some reason has a "homestyle" flavor that just wins people over; the few times I've tried going "gourmet" and doing fresh onion (or, God forbid, shallots) the results were good; but not the same for our crowd.

                            Penzey's is a nice balance between the distinctively dessicated flavor of onion powder and the real thing. And they're doing a salt-free one now that allows for much better salt control (a necessity when dealing with cheese in this kinda volume).

                          2. re: shaogo

                            Did you really mean that much macaroni? I'd think 4 lbs would be more than enough for 20.

                            I toss some dried minced onion into the bechamel, same idea as onion powder, but I also like a little mustard (honey mustard since that's what I keep on hand). Its tang cuts the richness of the cheese sauce a little.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              CI's Best Recipe adds a little dried mustard to some warm water to dissolve it. It's a nice addition.

                              1. re: greygarious


                                You're right. In fact I've been known to toss a little Chinese restaurant mustard into the recipe; but I forgot to add it -- I was being faithful to my mom's recipe...

                              2. re: shaogo

                                I think 2 cups of butter is 4 sticks, not two. IIRC, 1 stick = 1/2 c. butter.