I wasn’t planning on writing this blog or making this dish. But, when the boys ask me for food I am hard pressed not to make it. Usually when I ask what they want for dinner, all I ever get is, “Food.” So when they actually give me something they want, I better make it.
It all started at the Halloween Chili Cook-off when some of the young men started telling me how much they loved baked macaroni and cheese and asking me to make it for them. This planted the idea in my son’s head. And since then, all he has done is talk about how I have to make baked macaroni and cheese one day. What else is a mom going to do when her son wants something that bad?
Three Secrets to Mac & Cheese
It All Starts With the Sauce
The best cheese sauces start with a good bechamel sauce. Bechamel sauces is, in my opinion, the first of all the 5 mother sauces that anyone should learn. It is really easy and is the basis for most cream sauces. If you can make a good bechamel, you can make a great mac & cheese, a great corn or clam chowder, or even a great alfredo sauce. For a good bechamel sauce you must start with butter and good butter. Personally, I only buy European butter. It has a higher butter fat quantity and is more… buttery. Try it, you’ll understand with the first bite. Whole milk or half and half is the next ingredient – it lessens the chance of curdling as you heat the sauce.
When you melt the butter in the pan and add the all purpose flour, be sure to let the all purpose flour cook for 3-4 minutes. It gets rid of the taste of raw flour. Raw flour doesn’t taste good. You want your sauce to taste good. dried ground mustard and a pinch of nutmeg along with any other seasonings you want is almost essential to making a good sauce. I used Penzey’s Northwoods Seasoning, which is a blend of coarse flake salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, granulated garlic and ground chipotle pepper. Yum! No matter the quality of your ingredients, if you don’t season your food, it will be bland and sad.
Sharp cheddar is the only way to go. I like Tillamook’s Extra Sharp Cheddar. Don’t use the pre-grated stuff. It is highly processed and will make your sauce grainy. Go ahead and grate your own for this meal. You’ll be happy you did.
Don’t cook your pasta all the way
I really only cook the macaroni until the water comes to a boil. The pasta will finish cooking in the oven, so you really only want it in the water long enough to soften it. You’re looking for al dente, that is the noodles should put up some resistance when you bite into them, but not so much that it is unpleasant to chew.
Finish with Some Smoked Meats
A touch of smoked meat, in this case diced smoked ham, cuts through the richness of the cheese and adds just the right touch of something to cleanse your palette. I really can’t emphasize enough how nice it is to have smoked meat. One time I tried smoking my mac and cheese and I didn’t like it. It was too much. I really advocate using smoked meats instead.