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Dinner tonight! Mac ‘n’ cheese (possibly the best ever?)

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Could anything possibly be better than mac ‘n’ cheese? Probably not. 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.

I’d love to know what you think goes into the best mac ‘n’ cheese -- secret ingredients, combinations of different cheeses, sheer cheese quantity -- so please let me know. The Culinary SOS archive also includes several of our favorite versions of the classic comfort food.

For more quick-fix dinner ideas, check out our video recipe gallery here. Food Editor Russ Parsons and Test Kitchen manager Noelle Carter show you how to fix a dozen dishes in an hour or less.

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You can find Noelle Carter on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Email Noelle at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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.


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