What's for dinner? Why not try a Mac & Cheese Bar?

November 6, 2014

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Let's face it, while most people love creamy homemade macaroni and cheese, not everyone wants tomatoes in theirs.  Some people prefer ham.  Others, bacon.  The point is, the possibilities are endless!  Knowing this, and the fact that kids love any kind of "build your own" bar,  I've been known to make a macaroni and cheese bar for dinner from time to time.  To read more, click below.

Macaroni and Cheese Bar
The key to a great macaroni and cheese bar is obviously to have outstanding macaroni and cheese!

I'm a little particular in that I'm really not a fan of how dry most homemade macaroni and cheese seems to be.  Also, I've tasted a lot of homemade versions that were good, but somehow seemed grainy.  OK, I confess.  It was me.  I've made dry and grainy macaroni and cheese....many times.  But the good news is that I've finally figured it out!

The biggest mistake I used to make was adding the cheese into the base sauce (called a béchamel sauce) while it was still too hot.  Adding the cheese into a very hot base causes the cheese to breakdown in a way that it cannot recover from.  The result is a weird texture.  The other tip I have is to make more base than most recipes call for.  This means that it will remain creamier when other versions tend to be dry.

As for what to serve on your own Mac & Cheese bar, let your personal preferences and imagination be your guide.  Some thoughts:  caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, diced tomatoes, ham cubes, crumbled bacon, parsley, sautéed mushrooms, grilled shrimp, or even pico de gallo.  

In the photo shown above, I kept it pretty simple.  If you try this, be sure to let me know what items you served on your bar!

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

1 box elbow macaroni
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Dash nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
4 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 cups shredded cheese of your choice (my favs are Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack)

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Add butter into a large Dutch oven.  Melt over medium heat.  Add onion and sautee until translucent.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add flour to make a blond roux.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly.

2.  Using the roux, make a béchamel sauce:  add milk and cream to the roux, stirring constantly over medium heat until it begins to bubble and thicken.  Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, paprika, and dry mustard.  When it is sufficiently thickened (a little more than coating the back of a spoon), remove from heat and allow to cool significantly.

3.  While the béchamel sauce cools, boil the elbow macaroni noodles just shy of al dente.  Drain into a colander.

4.  Check to make sure the the béchamel is cool, and fold the elbow macaroni noodles into the dutch oven containing the sauce.

5.  Transfer the noodles and sauce into a well buttered casserole dish.  Top with shredded cheddar cheese.  Pop into a 350F oven for about 45 minutes or until bubbly.

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