What do you do when your kid wants mac and cheese and you don’t want to give him that gross boxed stuff? Make it from scratch, and fancy it up!
By now you know that Nate and I love our food. We love to cook / grill / barbecue it, eat it, sample it outside, wander around farmer’s markets and taste what’s in season. We love the textures of food, and the aromas and the visual appeal of foods.
Sadly, most times our two kids are happy to eat junk foods like french fries, chips, and - to Nate’s disgust - the so-called “Hawaiian” pizzas with ham and pineapple. As for our son Daniel, who loves all things cheesy, his most requested meal is…Mac and Cheese. It doesn’t have to be any fancy kind either (he snubbed the truffled mac and cheese at Alexander’s Steakhouse); he’d be super happy if I fed him that Kraft Mac and Cheese boxed stuff everyday!
One day, our friend Felicia served this amazing baked Mac and Cheese at her house. She said that she got the recipe from Ina Garten on the Food Network. My son devoured it in a minute flat and came back for seconds even before we adults had started on our meal! It was really delicious, so I decided I would have to try to make it too.
Fancy Baked Mac and Cheese
The first time I made this baked mac and cheese, I thought the amount of sauce was too much. Being the pake Chinese I was, I added more than the one pound of elbow pasta. I decided I could stretch it out and make a pound and a half.
That was a mistake. My son told me, “Mommy, Aunty Felicia’s mac and cheese is better!” I told him, “Fine! Get her to make it for you from now on!” and went off to sulk.
Well, hellooo? It was my own fault for being cheap by trying to stretch it. I had lost the rich, decadent flavor that was the point of this whole mac and cheese recipe! So the next time around, having learnt my lesson, I stuck to only one pound of pasta (which, by the way, still makes a LOT of mac and cheese).
I did adapt it a little this time but not in a way that makes it less tasty. Instead of gruyere, I used Parmesan (I actually prefer the flavor of Parmesan). And instead of fresh breadcrumb, I used panko (Felicia was the one who gave me that tip) and increased the amount because who doesn’t like a nice breadcrumb topping!
The outcome? Absolutely delicious. My son wolfed it all down and asked for seconds AND thirds! There you go, it’s been given his seal of approval.
(Basking in the warmth of son’s approval).
So if you’re looking for a more fancied up version of Mac and Cheese, do give this recipe a try. This recipe really isn’t too hard. Probably the most time consuming part is the grating of the cheese. Other than that, it’s quite quick to assemble.
(It does involve quite a number of pots, though. That part is no fun when you have to clean up. Thankfully, I have a dishwasher named Nate. ^_^)
Fancy Baked Mac and Cheese
adapted from Ina Garten, Food Network
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Parmesan (the good kind, please don’t use the pre-grated stuff in the green cylinder), grated (4 cups), original recipe called for Gruyere
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs (or more, I used almost double), original recipe called for fresh bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Set a large pot of water to boil and make sure to salt it well. When boiled, add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it.
4. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Turn off the heat, add the Parmesan, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
5. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
6. Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top.
7. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on top of the mac and cheese.
8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumb topping is golden brown.