Baked Macaroni and Cheese

It was Sunday night when Josh turned to me and said, "So, what side are we bringing tomorrow?" In the midst of traveling last weekend, I had totally forgotten that we were eating dinner with our bible study group on Monday and we were bringing the side dish. Ack! So, I wracked my brain for what we had in the house, and what would go with dinner- barbecue pork sandwiches, potentially eaten on the patio, if the weather's nice. We were out of potatoes, so no potato salad... what else is a good 'cookout' food? Macaroni and cheese, of course!

I had never made macaroni and cheese from scratch, except in 7th grade home economics class, where I missed the day they made it, so I had to make it at home and bring it in to the teacher. That was my first attempt at a white sauce. I didn't try another one for 10 years.

I found a recipe online and modified it to what I had on hand (and what I thought sounded good!). All in all, this was a good recipe- the topping turned out crunchy like it should, but the macaroni in the casserole didn't dry out, which is a definite fear with this dish.

Here's the recipe:
6 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. flour
Sprinkle of paprika
Salt and pepper
3 3/4 cups hot milk
4+ cups grated cheddar
1 lb. short macaroni, cooked al dente
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup crushed Ritz crackers

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Melt 6 tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes (flour mixture must foam as it cooks, or sauce will taste of raw flour). Stir in paprika and season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in hot milk, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. (Joanna's note: The first 1/2 cup I stirred in thickened the mixture to a SOLID. I panicked. Stirring in the rest of the milk makes it liquid again. It has to cook for a while to thicken again.) Take off heat and stir in 2 cups of cheese. Stir until cheese melts.

2. Combine pasta and sauce in a large bowl, and season with salt. Sprinkle 1/4 of the remaining cheese over the bottom of a buttered 8" × 11" baking dish. Place one-third of the pasta in the baking dish, top with a layer of cheese, then repeat, layering pasta and cheese, ending with cheese, making three layers in all.

3. Pour cream over assembled macaroni and cheese. (Joanna's note: This worried me too. It did not look good. The cream just kind of sat on top of the casserole. Don't worry, it turns out alright in the end.) Sprinkle crushed Ritz crackers on the macaroni and cheese. Bake until crust is browned, about 30 minutes. (I turned the oven to Broil the last few minutes to finish browning- but I almost did it too long! You have to watch it!) Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

From Cooking Fun
Comfort food at its best, seriously. My husband had some leftovers for lunch yesterday, and I'm eating the rest today (and looking forward to it!) This probably makes sides for 10, at least, and a meal for 6. We had 7 people eating off of it (and one two-year-old) and had less than a quarter of it left, but that was with most of us going back for generous second helpings!

Check out the rest of Make It From Scratch on Tuesday!

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