An Updated Classic: Macaroni & Cheese

I have always been a lover of cheese, plain and simple.  In fact, when I die and if there is a heaven, it would probably reek of epoisse and gouda and gruyere.  I imagine that would be some people’s hell, but hey, their loss.  So of course, by extension, I have always been a lover of macaroni and cheese.  Not the dainty kind with a light “dressing” of white sauce, but the rich, hearty, there’s-so-much-cheese-I-don’t-even-think-there-are-noodles-on-this-plate kind.  At home, we only had homemade macaroni and cheese on “special” occasions (at my grandmother’s, her baked macaroni and cheese was served steadily), but I ate the Blue Box every Friday or Saturday night when my parents left me and my siblings at home with a sitter so they could have a life.

Still, I asked for macaroni and cheese all the time.  And I mean all the time.  I’m not being sarcastic or hyperbolic in the slightest.  It got to a point where my mother said: “Fine. I will feed you macaroni and cheese.  All the time.”  (Probably not the healthiest of ideas, but she’d heard of someone curing her child’s chocolate addiction by allowing him to eat nothing but).  She decided that I would be allowed to only eat macaroni and cheese for a week.  Thank god it was summer.

We went to the grocery store, bought ingredients for every variety, and also a (again, unhealthy) quantity of the Blue Box.  It started on a Friday.  I happily ate macaroni and cheese breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  Until Sunday.  Sunday, I had a playdate.  My mother’s good friend Donna brought over her two kids, and a tray of homemade cupcakes.  I had to watch while they and my siblings devoured them.  And cupcakes are not a snack that appeared in my house often.  I felt like I was Cinderella watching everyone else get ready for the ball: I was never going to be able to eat a cupcake like them, ever!  I moped around the house the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, I caved.  And I have a feeling my mom was about to cave as well (wonder how many pounds I gained that weekend…).  Fortunately for me, I did not grow sick of macaroni and cheese.  In fact, its still my favorite food–although I’ll never eat the Blue Box again.

Here is my favorite grown-up version of macaroni and cheese.  The key, of course, is the cheese.  I prefer a hearty smoked gouda, but this tastes just as good with cheddars or gruyeres or a combination oh whatever you have in the house.  I apologize for the lack of precise measurements, but when I cook this dish, I play it all by ear after the roux.

Megan’s “Grown-Up” Macaroni & Cheese

While you boil water and cook your pasta, make the sauce.  Start with a roux: sauté half of a chopped white onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent and soft.  Then, add a tablespoon and a half of flour (all-purpose really works best for this) and stir in with a whisk so that there are no lumps.  Stir the roux over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes.  This is so that the floury flavor is cooked out of the sauce.  Then, begin to pour in room temperature milk (I use 2% when I cook), while stirring the roux.  The flour and butter mixture will thicken the milk; keep adding until the sauce approaches the thickness you want for your macaroni and cheese.  Again, cook this for about 5-10 minutes, continually stirring.

At this point, add the cheese.  I thinly slice a good smoked gouda (as thin as possible, so it melts quickly), and add it slice by slice.  Keep stirring until the sauce is smooth again.  At this point, if you feel that the sauce is too thick, add more milk (I err on the side of caution, and so my sauce is usually always too thick.  It’s easier to thin a sauce for this recipe than it is to thicken it).  Add about 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ground nutmeg, and paprika.  The cayenne gives it a nice kick, the nutmeg enhances the flavor of the cheese, and the paprika?  Well, I just like the flavor of paprika.  Season with salt to taste.  Pour over your cooked pasta.  Serve while hot.  And voila–easy!  And delicious (I’m still nibbling from the pan as I type this).


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