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Mac and Cheese

looking for a recipe that is creamy, cheesy with great flavor. Mine is so bland. The cheese sauce is always to thick...results you can cut it with a knife and lift out. I have tried less flour and more milk, but it always bakes up to thick. Also tried, dried mustard, red pepper. Any suggestions?

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  1. I use Martha Stewart's recipe. I don't recall if we're allowed to post links on CH. But if you google "martha stewart mac and cheese 101," you'll find the one I'm talking about.

    1. My M&C recipe is modified from an old Cooking Light recipe (http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/cream...). I use about 1 1/2 C sharp Cheddar cheese, 2/3 C Fontina or Monterey Jack, and 1/3 C Parmesan or Romano - no Velveeta! I also just use seasoned bread crumbs on top. Oh, and it's fine with skim milk or evaporated skim milk instead of 1%.

      We've added things like diced ham or (well-drained) tomatoes and spinach. And if you are impatient, it's fine right off the stove!

      1 Reply
      1. re: truman

        I have a similar approach, although I use cheddar, Gruyere, and Romano. Panko on top. I make my Bechamel with low fat or even fat free milk. I squirt enough Sriracha into the Bechamel to turn it a rosy pink.

      2. There are a number of tweaks you can make to your current recipe to keep it from getting so thick. First, try baking it for a much shorter time, or not at all - you can just run it under the broiler to get the topping brown. Rinsing off some of the starch from the pasta before you combine it with the sauce will help. Increasing the milk A LOT will help - I try to make sure my cheese sauce is no thicker than heavy cream when I add it to the pasta.

        As for the blandness factor, you need to make sure the cheese you're using has a ton of flavor - aged sharp cheddar and gruyere are two common choices that are nice and cheesy. Adding a small amount of Velveeta or American cheese will help boost the flavor (and keep the sauce from breaking) without being noticeable as "processed cheese." You can also get sodium citrate and use that to emulsify the cheese sauce, which makes the standard bechamel base, which can be bland, completely unnecessary.

        1 Reply
        1. re: biondanonima

          I agree, in addition I overcook my pasta so the pasta has a higher water content if I am baking it. If we are eating it off the stove we prepare it al dente..but in both cases we do rinse our pasta. If the pasta has more water in it will absorb less sauce and stay a bit moister.

          What we also do, if we are baking it, we will place some in 1 1/2 cup ramekins and will add different elements to each for a variety of flavors. So if we are adding some tomato or zucchini we can adjust the cooking time, whereas if we add some chicken or spicy sausage we might cook it a little less. Additionally you can tailor them with spice such as hot sauce, cayenne, etc. to individual taste.

        2. Are you talking a stovetop or baked mac and cheese? Either way--Tabasco. It adds zip and amps up the cheese flavor. You can add an amazing amount (a teaspoon or more) before it starts to add heat. I make a baked version with a 50-50 mixture (give or take) sharp Cheddar and mozza, plus lots of Tabasco. Another trick is that I mix the noodles with the white sauce and *do not* add the cheese. Instead, I put half the noodle-bechamel sauce into the baking dish, add half the cheese, and repeat both layers. Then I pour another cup or so of milk over the whole thing, then bake. The cheese never separates and there are always strings attached to the mother casserole.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Erika L

            Interesting tricks - I'm going to have to try the extra milk over the top!

            1. re: zackly

              Yes, for me, the roux always meant less cheese flavor. Now with no roux, I get the total cheese flavor that I want! Sodium citrate all the way!

              1. re: zackly

                THIS. Sodium citrate has been a life changing ingredient. Roux based mac and cheese ruins the flavor of a good cheese and makes the dish heavy.

                1. re: zackly

                  Am I the only one who didn't have luck with the sodium citrate? I followed the MC recipe to the gram and though it was good, I didn't notice any improvement in texture or flavor over my normal M&C. I don't use a roux normally, tho. I add cheese(s) that I've just grated to some heated half & half and I season to taste.

                  1. re: madtheswine

                    You basically made the same thing then. If you weren't using flour or a béchamel before, the taste will be similar. SC is only an emulsifying agent it does not change the flavor.

                2. Regarding your problem with the sauce, I've found the following tips to be helpful. #1 - Rinse the pasta in cool water before mixing with any sauce. #2 - Prepare the sauce a bit thinner than you think is needed. #3 - Add sauce to pasta, mix gently, dump into baking dish, shake to settle. Then, after the pasta and sauce mixture has settled into the dish, pour another 1-2 cups of sauce over the top (add crumbs now, or not, as is your preference). The last tip (adding more sauce over the top of the casserole) seems to be the one that really fixes it.

                  With respect to the lack of flavor: #1 - use 1/2 excellent quality aged cheddar and 1/2 gruyere. #2 - add 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 1 tsp. dried mustard to the sauce whilst preparing the roux.

                  1. Alton Brown's Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe works very well.
                    Use a really Sharp Cheddar. Skip the Egg add some Cayenne.

                    1. I go with all cheddar and a good one. Go sharp and local- Cabot is good. http://www.cabotcheese.coop/pages/our...

                      1. Curious to try sodium citrate --- is there anywhere in NYC to buy sodium citrate? I looked at some older threads lamenting the fact ingredients aren't easy to come by even in NYC so wondering if I still need to order online. I looked at Kalustyan's website but came up with nothing. Also tried NY Cake just in case but they also showed nothing. This morning I was at Lucy's Whey and asked the guy selling cheese --- he had heard about it and was curious but had no other information. Thanks.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Island Girl

                          These Guys are located in NYC but do not seem to have a retail outlet. Give'em a call?
                          http://www.myspicesage.com/

                          1. re: chefj

                            I'm sure you can find it somewhere in NYC but it's widely available online, and quite inexpensive - I bought a pound from Amazon for about $10, which will probably last me the rest of my life.

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              Island Girl seemed to want a physical location

                          2. re: Island Girl

                            You have to go to the actual store in person. In the spice room they have a whole section devoted to these food grade stabilizers that they don't sell online.

                            ETA: whoops! I am talking about Kalustyan's, but forgot to say so. Sorry.

                            1. re: Island Girl

                              try someplace that sells canning supplys

                            2. Cheeses, heavy cream, pepper. Why add flour or other ingredients. If you have great cheeses you have won the battle.

                              1. i use evaporated milk and chicken broth(or vegetable) when I want a creamy mac and cheese rather than the baked kind
                                of course there is also :cheese,Dijon mustard,flour, paprika, butter,

                                with everything going on in a pot nothing in the stove

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: girloftheworld

                                  Ok This may make more sense..

                                  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in large pot. Add salt and pasta. cook until al dente. To prevent sticking, drain and immediately pour onto a large baking sheet and let cool while preparing sauce.
                                  Meanwhile heat2 cans evaporated milk and 1 cup chicken(or vegetable) broth in sauce pan until hot and steamy (not boiling). Melt 3 table spoon butter in the empty pasta pot; whisk in three tablespoons flour , then hot milk mixture. Continue to whisk until thick and bubbly, 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in 1 ½ t Dijon mustard, ½ cup Parmesan and dash white pepper dash paprika. Turn off heat, stir in 1 pound combined Cheddar, Gruyere (or Fontina) and two slices of American until melted.
                                  2. Add drained pasta to sauce, and stir until everything is well combined over low heat. Stir to heat through, and thin with a little heated broth if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

                                2. This is my go to recipe from Gourmet. The pasta water ensures that the sauce is not too thick

                                  For topping
                                  1/2 stick unsalted butter
                                  2 cups panko (coarse Japanese bread crumbs) or 3 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from 6 slices firm white sandwich bread)
                                  1/4 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (1 1/2 cups)
                                  1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
                                  For macaroni and sauce
                                  1 stick unsalted butter
                                  6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
                                  5 cups whole milk
                                  1 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (6 cups)
                                  1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
                                  1 pound large elbow macaroni
                                  preparation

                                  Make topping:
                                  Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.

                                  Melt butter, then stir together with panko and topping cheeses in a bowl until combined well.

                                  Make sauce:
                                  Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes, then whisk in milk. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Stir in cheeses, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Remove from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper.

                                  Make Macaroni:
                                  Cook macaroni in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain macaroni in a colander. Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl. Transfer to 2 buttered 2-quart shallow baking dishes.

                                  Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.

                                  1. Hello Molly,

                                    I get it! I've spent years fiddling with unsatisfying Mac & Cheese recipes. The one who worked incorporated ideas from beer cheese, english cheddar seasoning and my favorite hard cheeses. Added cubed chorizo, tried it with friends and it was a great success!

                                    (the gouda was a bit insane-expensive though... so I'd recommend subbing... but its my favorite so I didn't have any choice!)

                                    Cheddar Mac & Cheese sauce with Chorizo

                                    • 4 tablespoon butter
                                    • ½ cup onion, diced
                                    • 1 clove garlic
                                    • 4 tablespoon flour
                                    • 1 cup chicken stock
                                    • ½ cup heavy cream
                                    • ½ cup cold milk
                                    • 1 cup ale
                                    • 250 gr of gouda (I used 36 months Beemster XO double age)
                                    • 250 gr cold pack cheddar (I used MacLaren’s Imperial Cheddar… didn’t plan to use it (initially thought 350g of gouda would work but I needed it to balance flavor and add that “cheddar” mac & cheese kick)
                                    • Salt
                                    • Pepper
                                    • 1 teaspoon powdered mustard
                                    • Worcestershire sauce
                                    • 1 teaspoon Cayenne
                                    • A bit of Nutmeg
                                    • 1 chorizo sausage
                                    • 6 raclette cheese

                                    • Melt the butter over low heat
                                    • Add onions and garlic
                                    • Let sweat until translucent
                                    • Blend in the flour and cook slowly, stirring, until the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes without coloring. This is the roux
                                    • Remove the roux from heat.
                                    • As soon as the roux stop bubbling, pour in ½ cup of milk and beat with wire whip. When everything is homogenized, put the rest of the liquids
                                    • Set saucepan over moderately high heat and stir with wire whip until sauce comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring.
                                    • Add the cheese in small steps so it melts
                                    • Beat in salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, nutmeg to taste
                                    • Heat until you thick enough. You will be able to dip a spoon in the sauce, dip it out, run a finger through the sauce and it won’t run
                                    • Dice Chorizo
                                    • Heat it in a pan to release flavors
                                    • Put chorizo in the cheese sauce
                                    • Mix with pasta
                                    • Put pasta in baking dish
                                    • Put fromage raclette on top of mac & cheese
                                    • Bake in a 350 oven until cheese is colored on top

                                    1. Thanks for all your replies, and recipes. I am beginning to experiment with them all. Will let you know my results.

                                      1. Not being a fan of mac and cheese I may not be of any help to you, but I will try. Being married my wife of Italian heritage for almost 55 years, I've seen enough pasta for 3 life times.

                                        If you are using a bland cheese, try stronger flavored ones in combination with the easy melt one that you use. Asiago,grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or grated Grana Padano Also, herbs and spices like ground cumin, ground coriander, a combination of Italian seasonings, and if you can tolerate some spiciness, try ground cayenne. Red pepper to me translates as red bell peppers instead of chile peppers.

                                        Chili powder found on supermarket shelves is a combination of ingredients usually with too much salt. Ground cayenne is a better choice.

                                        1. 1. don't bake it. The baking makes the sauce get absorbed by the macaroni, and results in a less creamy texture. Just broil for a few minutes to get a crispy browned top.

                                          2. add highly flavored cheeses. I do a four cheese Mac and cheese with cheddar, Swiss, parm reg & Gouda. Smoked Gouda works well also. But basically I use what I have on hand.

                                          3. my recipe also uses onion powder. Gives it a nice flavor.

                                          1. Trader Joe's puts out a good one. It is in a box. It comes out perfect everytime. It has macaroni in it and the sauce pouch.

                                            3 Replies
                                              1. re: chefj

                                                Unless you are Sandra Lee.. then you can throw your own toasted bread crumbs on it call it semi homemande

                                            1. One more recipe - this was my Grandma Katherine's way of making it... not typical, not particularly healthy, but tasty.

                                              2 C elbow macaroni (measure 2 C dry, then cook it as per the package directions and drain)
                                              1-2 T butter (add directly to hot noodles)
                                              2 C shredded cheddar cheese (ok to use pre-shredded)
                                              1 can condensed cream of tomato soup ("healthy" version works just fine)
                                              1/2 soup can of water (maybe 3/4 C?)

                                              Mix everything together. Transfer to a greased casserole dish or Pyrex. Bake at 325F for 1 hour - and run it under the broiler for a few minutes if you want the top to be extra crispy.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: truman

                                                Thanks Truman. That is different. I will try it.

                                              2. Sodium citrate and iota carrageenan will be a game changer.

                                                A flour based roux has HORRIBLE flavor release so you get a half assed muted flavor with a typical roux based cheese sauce.

                                                I add milk or beer to a pot, then add the SC and IC, hit it with an immersion blender, then add the cheese, hit it again with an immersion blender until it is emulsified then take it off the heat and use it or freeze it.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                                  I made a batch of cheese sauce with sodium citrate and sharp cheddar. It was the first time I ever made it with beer, Dos Equis Amber. In the past I've used milk and it's always great. This had a nasty acrid taste immediately (it was not (scorched)and didn't go away. Do you think it was the type of beer that caused this?

                                                  1. re: zackly

                                                    Interesting, I tend to use only pislers and lagers when I do the cheese sauce and I've never had a problem. Could have been the beer, but I can't say for certain.
                                                    This is why I wish I knew more about chemistry though.

                                                    1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                                      I'm going back to milk instead of beer. two clichés immediately come to mind:
                                                      "Once bitten, twice shy"
                                                      'If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it"

                                                      1. re: zackly

                                                        The beer can add a real nice flavor to the cheese, sometimes you want it, sometimes not. I wish I could remember the type of beer I used in the last batch.

                                                    2. re: zackly

                                                      Bittering hops have no aroma and no flavor besides bitterness. The oils from the cone that produce that hoppy smell are boiled away in ten to thirty minutes depending on the variety of hops. sooooo you realllly only want to cook with beer that can stand up to heat and have a nice rich flavour or you are "skunking" the beer kind of like leaving your coronna in the back seat of a car in texas summer and drinking it