Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

For the longest time, I didn’t know there was such a thing as baked macaroni and cheese.  Macaroni and cheese came in a box, the cheese was powdered, the end.  Homestyle mac-n-cheese was a mysterious and elusive thing, showing up occasionally at church potlucks.

[Let me go off on a tangent here and share with you the evolution of my family church’s potlucks: When I was a kid, they were pretty good.  Everyone put their best effort into a casserole or salad or dessert of some kind and the church provided a plate of PB&Js (on white bread, cut into triangles) for the kids.  Later, people kind of started phoning it in and instead of making something at home they’d pick up something from the grocery store.  A few times, someone even brought a pizza.

Then Hardee’s began selling fried chicken, and people really started phoning it in and just bringing that.  And then the idea caught on and pretty much every other dish brought to the potluck was a box of Hardee’s fried chicken, and after a while of this the church decided to just hire someone to cook and placed a ‘suggested donation’ sign & basket at the head of the buffet, so as to avoid the conundrum of too much fried chicken.]

I’m not sure what I thought about baked mac-n-cheese as a child.  For a while, I think I believed that it was a ‘lesser’ version of our ‘homemade’ Kraft mac-n-cheese that I was used to.  Later I simply grew to think of it as different.  And it was only much, much later that I came to realize that baked mac-n-cheese is the stuff southern grandmas are made of.

But because my grandma was not much of a cook, there was no recipe to be handed down and I was left believing that homestyle mac-n-cheese was the stuff of legend, the sort of recipe you had to be born into a certain family with a certain type of grandmother to inherit.

For a long time I was intimidated by it, believing it was not the kind of recipe that could be copied down and just made by anyone who can follow directions.

But I’m happy to say, I was wrong.

It took me a long time to get to this point of feeling comfortable attempting homemade mac-n-cheese.  And longer still for me to accept that it did not have to involve a béchamel sauce (that tedious stirring of butter and flour and milk and hoping the sauce does not seize) or loads of butter and cream.

I accept it now, that any cook can make a baked macaroni and cheese at home, without having to rely on excessively fatty ingredients for taste, and that the making of said macaroni and cheese does not have to be difficult, or involve numerous dishes or even take that much more time than the boxed variety.

Though I’m sure your granny would have you believe differently.

This version calls for warming the milk in a saucepan and stirring in the cheese until melted, an idea I found (if I’m remembering correctly) on smittenkitchen.  I added eggs to mine, because I feel that baked mac-n-cheese should be a little bit custardy.  This recipe makes a lot but is easily halved—I’d recommend going ahead and making the full batch and then freezing half in some Tupperwares (fyi, it freezes well, and when you reheat them in the microwave it’s like having a TV dinner, only one that is not full of salt/fat/preservatives, and which you did not have to pay for).

The recipe calls for 6 cups of cheese which I know sounds like a lot, but.  The recipe is called Macaroni and Cheese.  There are two main ingredients, one of them is macaroni and the other one is cheese.  Get over it.

You would probably do well here to use at least two different types of cheese (I’m thinking 2 c. sharp cheddar; 2 c. Velveeta, 1 ½ c. Gouda and ½ cup Parmesan) but I went with 4 c. cheddar and 2 c. mozzarella because it’s what I had on hand—go with what your taste buds (and pantry) recommend.

Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions
4 c. milk
6 c. shredded cheese (ideally sharp cheddar and/or American)
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground mustard
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat.  Add cheese and stir, increasing heat as needed until cheese melts and is evenly incorporated.  Remove from heat.  Add nutmeg, mustard, and salt & pepper to taste.  In a bowl, beat the eggs and gradually add ¼ cup of the cheese mixture to them to temper the eggs, stirring constantly.  Stir egg-mixture into cheese mixture, and add to cooked pasta.  Stir.

Spread the pasta out into a large glass baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with bread crumbs.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until bubbly and golden brown on top.  (If top is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.)

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