Macaroni and cheese is one of those homemade dishes that just conveys comfort. Each bite of the best mac and cheese is uniformly warm, soft and cheesy. Sure there are indulgent versions, (lobster mac and cheese, anyone?) but at its heart, I believe mac and cheese is what mommies (and daddy cooks, too, I’m sure) make for their babies when they come home. Even if the babies are old enough to have babies of their own, everyone expects mac and cheese when they come home.
That was the occasion for this batch of mac ~ my 17 year old baby girl coming home after a month away working as a camp counselor. It’s been a month of Sundays since I made a big pan of mac and cheese and I had to scramble for a recipe. I wanted a baked mac that could sit in the oven for a few hours to accommodate a flexible ETA, and that eliminated my go-to stovetop creamy mac. As I scanned my pantry for the ingredients, I found the recipe on the Mueller’s elbow macaroni box and thought about my own mom, decades ago, using the baked macaroni and cheese recipe from the Mueller’s box.
Making Macaroni and Cheese in my Mom’s Kitchen
It’s a comforting memory, wearing one of mom’s half aprons pulled up to my armpits and the ties wrapped twice around my chest. Standing on a step stool to reach the counter. Stirring the flour and butter together over the heat and watching the magic happen in front of my eyes as it thickened, only to have it loosen when I poured the milk in. Whisking over the heat to thicken it again. Shredding the Cheddar cheese and watching it melt into the gleaming white sauce. Pouring cheese sauce over cooked macaroni and listening to bubbles pop as the sauce invaded each tube. Sneaking a bite (or two or three) before Mom placed the casserole in the oven.
Four decades later, the side-of-the-box recipe served as the framework for my baked mac. I added an extra cup of Cheddar cheese because why not.
This is my favorite tip for making a roux: while whisking butter and flour together over heat, measure out the milk and zap in the microwave for a minute, maybe less, just to take the chill off. Warm liquid emulsifies more easily in the flour.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Based on Mueller’s pasta recipe. And years of hanging out in my mom’s kitchen.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
1 lb. elbow macaroni
¼ cup (half stick) butter
1/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 cups milk
4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1.In a large pot on the stovetop, bring water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
2. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Butter a 13 X 9-inch baking dish.
4. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and pepper.
5. If the milk is cold from the refrigerator, warm it in the microwave for one minute.
6. Using a whisk, gradually stir milk into butter-flour roux.
7. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese.
8. Put cooked and drained macaroni into buttered baking dish.
9. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni, stirring to get the sauce to the noodles on the edges of the pan. Top with remaining cup of shredded Cheddar cheese.
10. Cover pan with foil. Place on baking sheet and put in oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from oven, let cool slightly and serve. Store leftovers for up to 5 days in refrigerator.
Tip: this dish can keep in a moderate (250-300 degree) oven for a couple of hours.
More Comfort Food Classics from A Cook and Her Books
Practice roux-making skills with my tomato gravy recipe. Not a red sauce, but a creamy gravy flavored with chopped, summer-fresh tomatoes served over split buttermilk biscuits.
Try Chef Scott Peacock’s Chicken and Dumplings recipe. A refined Southern classic that will build your reputation as a legendary cook.