Who Doesn't Love Macaroni and Cheese
And, no, I don't mean the kind in the blue box. Or any kind that starts with powdered cheese or a squeeze packet of cheese. Not that there is anything wrong with Boxed Mac & Cheese from a blue box!
My kids love it and have been eating it for years. I remember living on it in college and adding cream of mushroom soup or a can of tuna fish to make it special.
Today, if you think that macaroni and cheese is just a kid's dish, or just comfort food for those cold days of winter time, it might be better to think of it as pasta in a classic French sauce instead of plain old mac and cheese. This recipe describes a classic American dish based on a classic French sauce. And you didn't think you could be gourmet chef.
Mornay sauce is a French sauce based on béchamel sauce, one of the 5 classic mother sauces with cheese stirred into it. I know, a lot of fancy names but béchamel is a simple white sauce made with milk, flour, butter, onion and seasoned with salt and pepper.
When you add cheese to this simple sauce, you have Mornay sauce. Besides homemade Mac & Cheese, Mornay is great on seafood and vegetables.
This may all sound way too fancy and over the top, but it really isn't difficult to prepare and the results are far better than what comes out of the box. Does it take more time and more effort?
A little, but not much more and the finished product is so much more appealing and when you look at the ingredients on the box (sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, Yellow 5 & 6), much healthier too.
Mix the Mornay sauce with any pasta shape you like, and voila: stove top macaroni and cheese! It's really easy to make, and your kids will enjoy helping. Older kids will even be able to make this on their own, in not much more time than it takes to make the boxed version.
Healthier Mac & Cheese
Making macaroni and cheese yourself allows you to control how much fat you put in, in the form of cheese and dairy, and how much salt. It also lets you sneak in some vegetables, if that's necessary in your house.
If your kids already love vegetables, you don't even need to sneak them in, just stir in whatever vegetables they like.
Classic Moray sauce is usually made with half Gruyere and half Parmesan cheese, but don't let that stop you from trying what's on hand or cheeses your kids love. I made my version with shredded Colby Jack.
Here is a basic recipe for Mac & Cheese and below you will find a few alternative suggestions but have fun and add your own twist to this recipe to make it your own. Be sure to let me know your favorite adaptions in the comments section below.
Cooking Tip: Don't worry about reducing the milk too much. The first time I made this I let it thicken too much forgetting the cheese will help make it thick. You want to reduce it some for a few minutes and then add the cheese.
Didn't have elbow macaroni but this ditalini worked just as well if not better.
Get the water boiling and pasta cooking before starting the sauce.
Cooking onions until translucent
Making a roux by adding a little flour
Add the dairy, bring to a boil and then simmer to reduce Add the cheese, stir and watch it melt into a wonderful sauce Mornay
Add the pasta, season with salt & pepper and stir together
My daughter added a little Old Bay Seasoning to her Mac & Cheese
Mac and Cheese Recipe
- In a pre-heated heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the butter until bubbly.
- Stir in the onion, salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat until onions have softened and are translucent.
- Stir in the flour, mixing well with the butter and onions. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes.
- Pour in the dairy and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
- Turn the heat down to low and let simmer until the sauce is as thick as you want it, stirring occasionally.
- Off the heat, stir in the grated cheese, a bit at a time. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
To Make Macaroni and Cheese
- Cook 8 ounces of your favorite pasta shape in boiling, salted water, until just barely al dente. I usually stop cooking 2 minutes before whatever time the package directions state.
- Drain the pasta well and combine with the hot cheese sauce.
- Warm over low heat for about 5 minutes, just so the pasta is cooked through. Make sure it doesn't boil, or your cheese sauce will separate.
To Sneak in Extra Vegetables
- Puree one cup of roasted butternut squash and whisk that into the Mornay sauce. Season with a bit of nutmeg.
- Stir in one cup of pumpkin puree to the Mornay sauce. Season with a bit of sage or poultry seasoning.
- Puree one cup of steamed cauliflower and add to the sauce. Season with a little nutmeg.
- For all three variations, no additional baking is necessary. Just heat the sauce with the hidden vegetables together with the pasta and serve.
Ideas for Variations
- Use jack cheese in your cheese sauce and stir in a can of drained tomatoes or Ro-Tel (tomatoes and chiles) along with a bit of chili powder and cumin.
- Stir in a cup or so of any cooked vegetable that your kids like. Cauliflower, peas, bell peppers, broccoli, green beans, etc, would all work well.
- To up the protein, stir in cooked diced turkey or chicken, or add in a some drained canned tuna.
- To change things up even more, vary the starch you use to make this. For example, you can substitute cooked white or brown rice, Israeli couscous, or even cooked barley or wheat berries for the pasta.