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 squeezed cheese packet. 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 unique.
Today, if macaroni and cheese is just a kid's dish or comfort food for those cold days of winter, 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 a gourmet chef.
Mornay sauce is a French sauce based on béchamel sauce, one of the five classic mother sauces with cheese stirred into it. I know many fancy names, but béchamel is a simple white sauce made with milk, flour, butter, and 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 for seafood and vegetables.
This may sound too fancy and over the top, but it 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 straightforward to make, and your kids will enjoy helping. Older kids will even be able to make this independently, 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 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's a basic recipe for Mac & Cheese and below you'll find a few other suggestions but have fun and add your twist to this recipe to make it your own. 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 for a few minutes and then add the cheese.
Mac and Cheese Recipe
- ¼ cup onion minced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups dairy product skim, 2%, whole milk, evaporated milk, half and half, cream or any combination
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 ounces cheese of your choice grated, more or less, depending on how much you like cheese
- 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.
Some of My Favorite Pasta Recipes