Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Easy Creamy Crunchy Homemade Mac & Cheese!

Talk about working On A Whim, I had a hankering for homemade mac & cheese and upon completion I was utterly amazed at how well it turned out! This led me to remake it for the purpose of taking pics in order to share this amazing dish with you here :) As you know, I rarely right down my recipes, resulting in the inability to make a dish the same twice. Though that's not the only reason, many times I choose to use what I have on hand in the moment, which adds to the variety of my inconsistent cooking.

Tonight, I happen to have macaroni noodles, American cheese, Colby Monterrey Jack cheese, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper seasoning, butter, and flour. Tonight, my husband is out with a friend for dinner and my son is going through a phase of disliking mac & cheese (I know, right!), leaving me with a quantity dilemma. 

Lately, I have have been making entirely too much food. I have that syndrome where I make enough food for eight people while I only have a total of three living with me. So, based on my ingredients I decided to simplify my recipe (technically I don't have one, though I usually try to make it with sharp cheddar and cream cheese), and based on my lack of others to feed I made as close to a single serving size as I possibly could. I mean, can anyone make one serving size, outside of a sandwich? I don't think so...(P.s. I am aware of the irony of my making this dish twice, while initially attempting to cut down the amount of food to make, but trust me, it will not go to waste ;)

The most beautiful thing about this process is that I used a total of 3 dishes: 1 pot, 1 bread pan, and 1 plate to eat off. That is it. No running to the sink to drain liquid, no separate pot for the sauce. Can you tell that I am lazy tonight?  I also only used 2 utensils, 1 serving spoon and 1 cooking spoon. That is only a total of 5 dishes to wash!

First, I poured about a cup of dry macaroni noodles in my pot, filling with water to cover about 1/2" above noodles, a large spoonful of butter and a generous amount of salt. 

One of the many reasons I don't write my recipes down is because I rarely measure my ingredients. I eyeball everything based on ratio, or what I think will taste good. I am a big believer in adding what you like in the quantity you like. If you prefer less butter, use less, if you prefer more, use more. Same goes for salt. 

I like to use butter for lubricating my noodles, but also for flavor. I am flavoring the noodles while they cook in the water, but I am also going to use this water for my sauce, so I am also flavoring the water. 

Let the noodles boil for about 5 minutes, then turn heat down to medium. 

While noodles are boiling, shred about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups of Colby Monterrey Jack cheese, or any other melting cheese you have on hand, and generously butter a 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 bread pan. 

Add a spoonful of flour directly to the pot, noodles and all, stirring slowly to incorporate into the water. If you choose to, add a little more butter. It won't hurt it any either way.

As you can see in the picture above right, I did not cook my noodles all the way before adding flour. Notice the tips are the only part that's white. I still have the heat on medium for the sauce, meaning the noodles will still cook as the sauce thickens. Plus, I am going to bake this once it's cooked and don't want them to over cook in the toaster oven

To the right, we are able to see the sauce is officially a sauce, though only with a butter flavor. Can you see how the noodles have whitened and plumped a bit just in the time it took to incorporate the flour? 
If you added too much flour, resulting in too thick of a sauce, or didn't start out with enough water to have enough liquid for the sauce, now is a good time to add a little more water, or milk if you have it on hand. If you pour too much, no worries, the flour and cheese will thicken it up as it sits on the heat. And if it doesn't, it will when it bakes. 

Add shredded cheese a handful at a time, 
allowing to completely melt before adding the next handful. 
I added 3 handfuls, leaving about 1/4 cup behind for the topping.       
 I was in the mood for a kick of heat, using two shakes of cayenne pepper seasoning. 
Add pepper and salt to taste.  
After seasonings are blended, turn off the heat. 
Spoon about half of the pasta into the bread pan.
Next, unwrap 3 slices of American cheese and place them over the noodles to cover. 
Spoon other half of noodles over the American cheese layer.
Top with remaining shredded cheese. Because I like a crispy top, and am out of bread crumbs, I cheated by sprinkling a little more than a pinch of flour atop the shredded cheese. 
Then I added pepper to eyeball liking. 
After placing the pan in the toaster oven, 
I turned the temperature to 350 degrees and baked for 15 mins.  
 Now I do not preheat my toaster oven because it takes no time to heat up, being so small. 
But for a conventional oven, preheat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 mins.  
 This super easy and wonderfully anti-messy Mac & Cheese has a golden crispy top, 
coupled with an uber gooey and creamy center :)

 Now it's time for me to have my second helping! And I know when my husband gets home he will be hungry enough wolf some of this down. Of course, as much as I want him to enjoy it, I certainly hope he will save some for me to eat tomorrow! 

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