Could anything possibly be better than mac 'n' cheese? Probably not. Even better, there are so many ways to make it. Here are just a few:
Best-ever mac 'n' cheese: We ran this recipe for "really the best-ever mac 'n' cheese" a few years ago -- and while I don't know if I would agree that it's the best-ever, I love the fact that it takes just over an hour to make, perfect if you're thinking about what to put on the table for dinner tonight.
Beer-baked mac 'n' cheese: And just when you thought mac 'n' cheese couldn't get any better, the Rackhouse Pub in Denver decides to add beer to this quintessential comfort food. The recipe combines no less than five -- yes, five -- kinds of cheese in a rich base lightened with a cup of amber ale; then it gets baked under a crust of panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese to rich, crisp, golden perfection.
Mac 'n' cheese from The Ahwahnee: The Ahwahnee takes this comfort food to the next level, boosting it with Parmesan cheese and adding a hint of spice with a little Old Bay seasoning before baking it to toasted golden perfection.
You can find all of the recipes below.
REALLY THE BEST-EVER MAC 'N' CHEESE
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Servings: 12 to 16
Note: Use large shells such as chiocciole or conchiglie, or large elbow macaroni.
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon melted butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
3 cups shredded Swiss Gruyere cheese
1 pound shells or elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions in salted water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the panko bread crumbs with the melted butter on a small baking pan. Toast the bread crumbs until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted, then stir in the flour. Heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Add the dry mustard, white and cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and bay leaf. Heat and stir to boiling, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf.
3. Stir in 3 cups of the cheddar and all the Gruyere until melted. Pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, stirring until all the macaroni is coated. Pour the macaroni into a well-buttered 9-by-13-inch casserole. Drizzle heavy cream around the edges of the casserole. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese, then the toasted bread crumbs.
4. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered an additional 10 minutes. Put under a preheated broiler for 5 minutes.
Each of 16 servings: 415 calories; 19 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 25 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 75 mg. cholesterol; 565 mg. sodium.
BEER-BAKED MAC 'N' CHEESE
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
Servings: 12 to 16
Note: Adapted from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup amber beer
2 cups half and half
1/2 pound Brie
16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (16-ounce) box penne pasta, cooked and drained
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium, heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a light roux. Slowly whisk in the beer and half and half.
3. Add the Brie and cream cheese to the sauce, stirring until the cheeses are melted and incorporated. Stir in the Gorgonzola, cheddar and 1 cup Parmesan cheese.
4. Stir in the pasta, taste and adjust the seasonings as desired with salt and pepper (some of the cheese will be salty and the mixture may need only a little salt, if any).
5. Pour the mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top the mixture by sprinkling over the remaining Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the toppings are crisp and golden, about 1 hour.
6. Cool slightly before serving.
Each of 16 servings: 566 calories; 20 grams protein; 29 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 41 grams fat; 25 grams saturated fat; 123 mg. cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 611 mg. sodium.
LARRY'S MACARONI AND CHEESE
Total time: About 1 hour
Servings: 6 to 8
Note: Adapted from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park.
1 pound small elbow macaroni
7 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) flour
1/3 cup minced onion
4 ounces finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon oregano
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 cups cream
3/4 cup milk
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the macaroni. Cook until the macaroni is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes, or according to the instructions on the packaging. Drain and set aside.
2. While the water is coming to a boil, in a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and cook, whisking to form a blond roux (the mixture will be very stiff at first, but will loosen slightly as the flour is hydrated), about 2 minutes.
3. Whisk in the onion, then the cheese, oregano, Old Bay, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk the cream and milk in slowly until fully incorporated.
4. Cook the mixture at a very gentle simmer, stirring frequently to cook out the flour taste, about 20 minutes (scrape the bottom of the pan occasionally to prevent the flour from sticking).
5. In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the cheese sauce. Place the mixture in a 3-quart casserole and bake until warmed through and lightly toasted on top, about 30 minutes. Cool a few minutes before serving.
Each of 8 servings: 682 calories; 17 grams protein; 56 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 44 grams fat; 27 grams saturated fat; 145 mg. cholesterol; 3 grams sugar; 412 mg. sodium.