While there is an undeniable charm to the fake-orange-powder boxed mac-n-cheese, there’s also nothing quite like a nice, cheesy batch of homemade stuff. This recipe is one I’ve been using for a bit, and we really like it fresh from the pot, or nuked (or baked, if it’s a quiet afternoon) after freezing. It’s quite adaptable to both kid and adult palettes. Try something like a smoked gouda in the cheese mix, or stick with the simple yellow stuff for the less-adventurous faces.
Boil 3-4 cups macaroni noodles until al dente. Drain, but do not rinse (the starch on the noodles helps thicken the sauce.) I like to save about 1 cup of noodle water just in case (I’ll explain why near the end.)
While the noodles are boiling, grate your choices of cheeses and toss them all together. You want about 6 cups total. I like a mix of Colby-Jack and Extra Sharp Cheddar, but I’ve also tossed in bits of leftover Swiss, some Parmesan, whatever I have. If you want a bit of spicy, add Pepper Jack for part of the cheese blend. If you have Fontina, it melts gorgeously. I like to have a mix of something that melts smoothly (mozzarella can go stringy, so don’t use too much), and something that has a lot of flavor.
- 1/2 to 1 cup diced white or yellow onion (dice almost to the minced point)
- 1/4 cup butter
In a saucepot you can use a whisk on, saute those together until the onions are soft and translucent, but not browning. Then add flour and seasonings to make a roux that you’ll cook for about one minute, to get the “raw” taste off the flour; it shouldn’t brown.
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (I prefer a peppercorn blend I get in bulk at WinCo)
- 1 tablespoon mild paprika (though the smoked stuff is nice in grown up versions!)
- 1/2 to 1 tsp ground dry mustard (optional, but I like it. WinCo bulk on this and the paprika)
Then whisk in
- 3-4 cups milk
Bring this all to a simmer, letting the sauce begin to thicken up. Be sure to remove it from the heat before adding the cheeses! If they boil, they break, and you get a grainy sauce. The sauce will be hot enough to melt the cheese. When you’ve whisked it smooth, add the noodles. If you need to loosen up the sauce a bit, add a dash more milk, or a bit of the reserved noodle water. (If you know you’ll be freezing family-sized portions for baking later, keep the sauce on the loose, gooshy side.) Taste the gloriously gooey stuff, and balance the salt/pepper if you need to.
At this point, you can either serve it straight from the pot, decant it into a casserole and pop it into the oven to get a bit browned on top, or prep it for freezing.
To freeze: spoon it into mini-loaf pans or cupcake tins for single servings, 8×8 or larger casserole pans for full-family portions. Pop the pans into the freezer for several hours, until solid. Then, remove the pans and run the backs in hot water to loosen the portions. Pop them out like enormous cheese ice cubes, and bag for storage.
To nukulate them, defrost for several minutes, then hit them with a quick burst on full power (1-2 minutes does it) and stir well before serving.
Or, you can pop the larger frozen blocks into the fridge to defrost the day before you want to use the noodles, then bake at 350* until it’s hot through and slightly browned on top.