Moving to the UK, one of the foods the girls miss most is Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. Not exactly my favorite, with the neon orange cheeze powder, but they love that stuff nonetheless. Occasionally it appears for about $5/package in the “American products” aisle of the grocery store. Let me explain the “American products” aisle. There are a fair amount of American expats nearby, so most grocery stores – including our little corner store – have an “American products” aisle. However rather than showcasing America’s finest products that you miss most – graham crackers, unsweetened baking chocolate, shortening, pickles, anything from Trader Joe’s – it represents all that is wrong with America: Count Chocula cereal, peanut butter and jelly spread (??), pancake mix in a jug, Pop Tarts and the occasional Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese box.
As I’m not going to spend $5 a box and our supply smuggled across the border by American visitors doesn’t last long, I decided to make it myself. The recipe that I liked most is from The Gourmet Cookbook and it’s got a sharp cheddar sauce with big, spirally noodles and a crisp, buttery, cheesy panko topping. Mac ‘n cheese for the adults as much as the kids.
So I tried it out a few weeks ago when we had two families over for dinner. The pan was practically licked clean: the adults loved it, the kids loved it, with the one exception being my youngest daughter…. who defiantly said she prefers Kraft. I give up.
I still think this is the best mac ‘n cheese ever – comfort food at it’s best.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese (serves 6 as main dish, 12 as side dish)
Note: I don’t know how many times a recipe says to “reserve some of the pasta water” and I go ahead and drain the pasta, completely forgetting to reserve the water. So I found this trick a while back: put the measuring cup in the strainer and then when you go to strain the pasta it’ll be staring right at you, reminding you not to forget.
Update: If you want to make this a meal, include some protein by throwing in a bit of diced, cooked ham. Delicious!
2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (120 grams) panko bread crumbs
4 ounces (115 grams) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
3/4 pound (340 grams) spirali or macaroni pasta
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons plain, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 3/4 cups (650 ml) whole or semi-skimmed (2%) milk
3/4 cup (175 ml) double/heavy cream
1 pound (450 grams) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400º F / 220º C. Grease a large baking dish (9″ x 13” or 23cm x 33cm).
To make the topping, stir together 2 tablespoons melted butter, panko and 4 ounces cheese in a medium-sized bowl until well combined. Set aside.
Cook macaroni in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain macaroni.
To make the sauce, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 4 quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Whisk in flour and red pepper flakes and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes to make a roux. Whisk in milk in a slow stream, increase heat to medium high then bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add cream, 1 lb cheese, mustard, salt and pepper and stir until cheese has melted, about 1 minute.. Remove pot from heat.
Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water and sauce in a large bowl (I typically use the pasta boiling pot for this or the Dutch oven used for the sauce – less clean-up), then transfer to baking dish (mixture will be loose). Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni. Bake until top is golden and bubbling, 25-35 minutes. Serve immediately. If there are leftovers, reheat in the oven so the topping stays crisp (it will get a bit mushy if you reheat in the microwave).
Adapted from Gourmet