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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 Archive.org - 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.

                            3. I love a traditional mac and cheese made with a bechamel sauce.

                              Martha Stewart's Perfect Mac and Cheese recipe is quite good. I usually skip the nutmeg and add some dijon or dried mustard.


                              I also really like Gourmet's Classic Mac and Cheese recipe. If you use extra sharp cheddar, it is incredibly flavorful and cheesy even though it only has one kind of cheese. A little Worcestershire sauce perks up the flavor, too.


                              2 Replies
                              1. re: bear

                                The Martha Stewart one is close to how my mom always made hers but I agree on the dried mustard instead of nutmeg. A bechamel sauce isn't that hard to make and is really the most complicated part of mac and cheese. I usually make a bechamel, add mustard, salt, pepper, and extra sharp cheddar. Mix the cooked noodles with that and bake it in the oven with a breadcrumb topping. Sometimes I add onions to the bechamel but that's not a requirement.

                                1. re: mjane79

                                  That's just how I make the mac and cheese that my family loves, but I also add some worcestershire sauce and put buttered bread cubes on top. The extra sharpt cheddar is key...it's really delicious comfort food.

                              2. Here's my grandmother's recipe for macaroni and cheese- you can't beat it for taste or simplicity.

                                1 cup of macaroni
                                1/4 cup of sugar
                                large lump of butter
                                4-6 oz of Cheddar cheese, cubed or grated (don't buy the pre cut stuff)
                                1 cup rich cream (I use evaporated milk mixed with half and half)

                                Cook macaroni in saled boiled water until tender. Drain, Combine with sugar, butter, cheese, and cream. Pour into greased casserole dish. Top with more grated cheese and sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the top. The sugar makes it brown nicely. Bake at 350 until bubbly and nicely browned.

                                1. wow! you gave me some great recipes . I appreciate the help. This should really get me started :)

                                  1. I basically use a tweaked version of Chow's recipe for stovetop mac&cheese. My tweaks are using a blend of cheeses rather than just cheddar (I like cheddar, parmesan, pepperjack, muenster, etc.), using lowfat buttermilk instead of half and half, and smoked paprika instead of hot sauce. The buttermilk is still thick and creamy and I love the flavor. This is as easy to make as the boxed stuff, but so much better.


                                    1. The Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (the one in the binder with the red-checked cover) also has a wonderful recipe for "baked Macaroni and Cheese" that doesn't need the bechamel step. It relies on the evaporated milk, mentioned hereinabove. I'm going to look for it in the boxes from mom's house but I don't know that I can find it readily.

                                      Evaporated milk, combined with the cheese and (cooked) macaroni and perhaps a tbs. of flour; then butter the top; gets put in a deep-dish, then either scooped out to serve or, for a fancy preparation, turn out the baking dish (a loaf pan) and slice it, then broil slices to crisp the edges and sauce with a simple tomato sauce.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: shaogo

                                        shaogo that sounds like a great recipe! thanks so much!

                                      2. My grandma used to make a totally different (non-bechamel) M&C:

                                        2 C macaroni (2 C dry), cooked and drained
                                        2 C shredded cheddar cheese
                                        1 can Campbell's tomato soup (the condensed kind)
                                        2 T butter, melted

                                        Mix everything - bake at 325F for 30 min.

                                        I was in college when I learned that this wasn't the same kind of M&C that "everyone" normally ate...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: truman

                                          I have got to try that - could be a new cult classic ;-)

                                        2. My "Heart Attack Mac" is our family favorite. It is pretty simple and has a very, very rich taste.
                                          2/3 cup Onion, Carrots, Celery
                                          1/2 stick of butter
                                          1 Cup Sharp Cheddar
                                          1 Cup Extra Sharp Cheddar
                                          1 Cup Vermont White Cheddar
                                          1 12oz Irish Beer
                                          3 egg yolks
                                          3 Cups Heavy Cream
                                          1lb Pasta
                                          salt / pepper to taste

                                          Start by sweating your veggies in butter. Next add Irish Beer, reduce to half. Move to blender, add in 1 cup of cream, blend until smooth. Move back to pan, add remaining cream and bring to a high simmer for 10 minutes. Bring heat to low, temper in eggs and slowly add in cheese. Salt and pepper to taste, simmer until desired thickness is reached. Add cooked pasta, and serve.

                                          I won't lie, this stuff is evil. It's not something you make for your health, but is so very good. I'll probably put it in this weeks Weekend Chow Down. www.weekendchowdown.com

                                          2 Replies
                                            1. re: WeekendChowDown

                                              I'm normally a real bechamel-lover, but this sounds delicious.

                                            2. This recipe appeared in the New York Times about 4 years ago and it became my favorite:


                                              Also note that there was a mac & cheese post last year with 60 replies:

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Brian S

                                                Love the NYT recipe ... "1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)".
                                                (not lowfat) ... we're live'n large now.
                                                Can't wait for their lasagne recipe using Cambells Tomato Soup.
                                                (Do note, eggs poached in this soup accompanied w/ Saltines ... sheer comfort)

                                                1 lb of pasta (yes, elbows) ---> 1lb cheese.
                                                1/2 lb good melt (eg gruyere) 1/2 lb sweet tang (eg sharp cheddar)
                                                basic mornay ... pasta al dente ... mix.
                                                doctor to your palette with every suggested addition ..
                                                and then some (though, please, not at once).

                                                top w/ additional cheese over light crumb, broil till top crisps.

                                              2. My go-to mac & cheese is on epicurious and it is a chipotle mac & cheese w/ garlic bread crumb topping. It's really rich but the smoky spiciness of the chiptole makes it so good as do the garlic bread crumbs.