Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

Life in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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Everyone loves mac-n-cheese, right? I know I do.  Sometimes you just need a warm and gooey cheese casserole.  When you do, this is the recipe for you.

I’ve been making baked mac-n-cheese forever, or for at least for 16 years.  The original recipe I used was from Nance’s old, red McCall’s Cookbook – it was written sometime in the 70’s and it’s a good, basic how-to-cook book with a lot of 70’s flair.  Kind of a How to Cook Everything for the disco set.  The first time I made it, I may have been going through a “Let’s put food coloring in everything” phase – pink mac-n-cheese, it’s what’s for dinner.  Anyway, that recipe was my original source but through the years, I’ve added a bit of this and a dash of that, ending up with a near-perfect mac-n-cheese.


My mac-n-cheese starts with some melted butter, a diced shallot, a dash of salt, a dash of nutmeg, and a dash of cayenne.  Once the shallot is soft, I add some flour, to make a roux.  Once the flour is cooked for a minute or so, I gradually whisk in some milk.  I let everything get all bubbly and thickened, and then in goes a squirt of Dijon mustard and cheese, glorious cheese.

I think the secret to a great mac-n-cheese is a blend of cheeses – yeah, it’s good with just cheddar but a blend is what sends it over the top.  To facilitate this process I do two things – 1.  I make mac-n-cheese when my cheese drawer gets full of those small random hunks of cheese that have been used for something else 2. I buy deli cheese ends.  When you’re buying cheese ends, just make sure that it’s really a mix – sometimes they can be heavy on the American.

Cheese Ends (and Garlic)
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this picture…

This batch of mac-n-cheese used that package of deli ends (a nice mix of Swiss, Cheddar, American, Muenster, Provolone…), chopped into small pieces, along with some grated smoked Swiss, Gruyere and Emmenthaler.  (Make sure to reserve some of the grated cheese for the top.)  Once the cheese sauce is done (done=melted cheese), the sauce gets combined with some just-shy-of-al dente macaroni (the pasta continues to cook while the mac-n-cheese is baking) and topped with a mixture of grated cheese and panko.  It goes into the oven for a spell, and comes out all golden-brown and amazing.

I generally serve mac-n-cheese with a roasted vegetable – on Tuesday, it was green beans.  I originally saw the recipe on America’s Test Kitchen and knew I had to make them.  They are amazing!

Green beans, pre-roasting

When the mac-n-cheese comes out of the oven, I crank up the temperature, put the green beans in the oven and let them cook while the mac-n-cheese cools. I am always amazed at how perfectly the timing works.


Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food – I don’t have the McCall’s recipe but this is a nice, basic mac-n-cheese recipe.

  • 1 pound short pasta, such as cavatappi or macaroni
  • Coarse salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese (12 ounces)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 3 cups very coarse fresh breadcrumbs

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water 1 to 2 minutes less than package instructions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking, 1 minute. Add milk, cayenne, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons salt; bring to a simmer. Cook, whisking, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in cheeses until smooth. Pour over pasta; toss to coat. Divide among baking dishes (see below).

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter; toss with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over pasta. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; freeze up to 3 months.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place frozen dishes on a baking sheet; remove plastic. Cover with foil. Bake until bubbling, 60 to 70 minutes for large dishes, 40 to 50 minutes for small. Remove foil; continue baking until golden, 5 to 10 minutes more.

Roasted Green Beans
Recipe couresy of America’s Test Kitchen

  • 1     pound green beans , stem ends snapped off
  • 1     tablespoon olive oil
  • Table salt and ground black pepper

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; spread beans on baking sheet. Drizzle with oil; using hands, toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss to coat, and distribute in even layer. Roast 10 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven. Using tongs, redistribute beans. Continue roasting until beans are dark golden brown in spots and have started to shrivel, 10 to 12 minutes longer.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, transfer to serving bowl, and serve.

This is a super-economical meal – in total it probably cost $6 to make and it fed Emily, Gist, Jeremy and me on Tuesday night; Gist and me for supper on Wednesday AND for lunch on Thursday, that’s less than $1 per serving.

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