If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been trying macaroni and cheese recipes lately. I’ve spent several of our recent snowstorms making batch after batch of mac and cheese, in hopes of finding the perfect recipe.
Now of course Martha Stewart already has what she calls Perfect Macaroni and Cheese, and the recipe happens to be the most downloaded on her website. I’ve tried it, and it is indeed delicious, but as Martha herself notes, it takes a bit of doing: “To begin, you still need to make a white sauce. A generous amount of butter is melted in a large saucepan, and then flour is stirred into it to make a loose paste. After the flour has cooked in the hot butter, hot milk is whisked in. The starch from the cooked flour expands in the milk, creating a thick, creamy sauce. The starch binds the sauce, so that when the cheese is stirred in, the result is creamy and smooth, not stringy and curdled.”
Now I’m sure my results are due to a lack of skill on my part, but that white sauce is never what I’d call creamy and smooth — it just doesn’t have the silkiness I’m looking for.
And when I say that I’m looking for it, what I really mean is I’m looking for a recipe that will yield the kind of mac and cheese that my teenage daughter has in mind, which is to say along the lines of Kraft — smooth, cheesy, not too thick and not stringy. So I’ve been looking for a recipe that is homemade, yet has that packaged mac consistency.
And I think I’ve found it. At least it’s close enough that I feel like I can stop looking.
The original recipe was graciously shared by Katy Williams, who’s well known in the local food artisan community; you’ve probably seen her at the Indy Winter Farmers’ Market at the Ludwig Farmstead Creamery booth. Her version called for mixing the mac and cheese together on top of the stove, then baking it. And it was definitely good, but I decided that I liked the consistency better before the dish was baked. And since my family doesn’t care for crunchy, bread crumb-topped mac and cheese, I skipped its bread crumb topping. Unfortunately, no one but me was around to sample it before baking
Which meant that I needed to make another batch.
This time, I cut the recipe in half, which yielded a more manageable amount (because no matter how good it is, we don’t need to be eating mac and cheese for days), and I made it completely on top of the stove, which cut down on the time involved. On the advice of a chef, who very nicely weighed on on Facebook during my mac and cheese-making extravaganza, I added American cheese in addition to a cheddar blend to add creaminess.
So here it is, with many thanks to Katy, my Almost Perfect Macaroni and Cheese. Add a little crumbled bacon and it just might be perfect.
Almost Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
1 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
1/2 stick butter
6 ounces evaporated milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese blend
3 or 4 slices American cheese (about 2 to 3 ounces), in small pieces
Dash of nutmeg
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
In a medium saucepan, cook macaroni in boiling, salted water until done but still firm. Drain and return macaroni to pan. Add the butter, stirring to melt.
Whisk together evaporated milk and egg; add salt, pepper and dried mustard, stirring well.
Add cheeses to macaroni. Over very low heat, stir until cheeses begin to melt. Add evaporated milk mixture and continue to stir over low heat until cheese is incorporated. Add dash of nutmeg and season with cayenne pepper to taste. To reheat, add a bit more evaporated milk and stir over low heat until incorporated into sauce.