If you have kids, then I'm sure Mac and Cheese is a common occurrence in your household. We didn't eat a lot of mac and cheese growing up, but that was before the grocery shelves were stocked with their own section of the wide variety of boxed versions. Back then, I can only remember the one version that came in the blue box with the powdered cheese-like substance. Yeah, you know the one. Now, take a trip to your local grocery and you can find that same box but also a creamy cheese version, a whole-wheat version, a four-cheese version, and on and on.
The truth is that none of them taste homemade. The powder version tastes like, guess what, powder. The creamy cheese packets tastes like some kind of gloopy concoction that somewhat resembles cheese. And, once you've tasted the homemade version, you will wonder how in the heck you've been feeding this to your family!
I have one particular family member in my household who is a connessieur of mac and cheese. Mac and cheese. Mac and cheese. If she could eat it every day for every meal she would still never grow tired of it. She has eaten probably every variety known to man or woman and over the years has gotten a bit picky in what's good and what isn't. She will forego certain restaurants because their mac and cheese isn't up to snuff. She doesn't like it fancy, but she refuses to eat the powdered version. Creamy is her favorite variety. Such a mac and cheese snob!
Well, a while back I decided I'd find a homemade version that would appeal to her mac and cheese sensitivities. These kids of mine are lucky! I came across a recipe from Martha Stewart that used different cheeses in a creamy sauce with fresh bread crumbs on top. It was a winner. My girl ate it up, which has never been an easy achievement for her. And now it has become one of her favorite meal requests.
Since originally making Martha's version, I have tweaked at it a bit and now use my own creamy cheese sauce. For the bread crumbs, I typically use a loaf of bread that has gone stale from sitting around too long. You can use a baguette, Italian loaf, whatever you have that's hardened a bit. It's easy to grate the loaf, maybe a bit messy, but well worth it after it's baked on top of the mac and cheese. The sauce is a simple white sauce with lots of cheese added into it. It bakes a lot and can be served as a side, or as we typically do, served as an entree with plenty of leftovers the next day.
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One pound Macaroni
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups Whole Milk
2 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Gruyere Cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1 cup Bread Crumbs or Stale Bread (grated)
1 Tablespoon Butter (to make the bread crumbs)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13 x 9 inch casserole dish. Set aside.
Prepare macaroni according to package directions. Cook just until done. Do not overcook.
In a medium saucepan, melt 4 T. of butter over medium-low heat.
Add 4 T. of flour. Whisk the butter and flour together until they form a paste.
Butter and Flour Whisked Together
Add 5 cups of half-and-half. Whisk the half-and-half with the butter/flour mixture until they are combined. Continue stirring with the whisk until the mixture thickens and just begins to bubble. Don't rush this step because the butter will burn. And, make sure to continue stirring or the flour will settle to the bottom of the pan and begin to burn.
Once the white sauce has thickened, stir in the nutmeg and red pepper. Add 1 1/2 cups of the cheddar cheese and 1 cup of the gruyere. Stir until the cheese has melted.
Drain the macaroni and place it into a large bowl. Stir in the cheese sauce to combine. Pour the mixture into your buttered casserole dish.
Bake for 30 minutes, covered, in the oven.
While it is baking, in a small saucepan, melt 1 T. of butter over medium-low heat. Add 1 cup of bread crumbs and mix together with the butter. Uncover the mac and cheese and sprinkle the bread crumbs and your 1/2 cup of leftover cheese on top.
Casserole with Bread Crumbs and Extra Cheese on Top
Continue to bake, uncovered for 15 minutes.