Before Shelter in Place even kicked off our local markets went into panic mode. It was the first week of March. Over morning coffee Lenny mentioned he was concerned and that we should really stock up the non-existent pantry. I am the home cook that likes to go to the market every couple of days and cook whatever looks great. Here we are at Whole Foods with the rest of our community stuffing our cart full of items we hardly if even ever buy. Like boxes of mac and cheese. All the while in the back of my mind I kept telling myself to put the boxes back and make your own creamy stovetop mac and cheese.
Once home with all of our non-perishable items and literally no space to put them I kept questioning my cooking judgment. Why would I now after all this time resort to eating this way. Convenience? Nutrition? Comfort? Definitely not the latter two options. It was definitely easier to grab a box of mac and cheese and have lunch on the table within thirty minutes. Though I always feel quilty with every spoonful and tended to then load up on veggies.
After a couple of weeks of living this way, I decided that just because the world was in a crisis that I did not need to run my household this way. That we still had options. Maybe not the options we had before but we could still make better choices. During my next market run, I stocked up on elbow pasta and cheddar cheese. Both lasted equally as long as a box of premade mac and cheese, and both also gave me more options.
This recipe for creamy stovetop mac and cheese has been in my recipe repertoire since I did work with Wisconsin Cheese Board many moons ago. It is usually always made by memory, a little of this and a little of that. Now that time is on my side, I settled in last week over a zoom call with a friend and we made mac and cheese together. Then we enjoyed big bowls of creamy cheesy mac and cheese. This my friends is what comfort food is really about; connection, cooking together, and breaking bread either in person or long distance.
Tips to make your creamy stovetop mac and cheese a creamy success:
- undercook the pasta by two minutes to prevents mushy mac and cheese
- use whatever cheese you can find, I like a mixture of mild and sharp cheddar but one or the other works great as does jack or white cheddar
- heat the milk before adding to the flour and add it slowly while whisking as this will prevent lumps
- 1 box elbow pasta, 16 ounces
- 3 cups whole milk - you may need to add a little more if the sauce is too thick (different stoves cook differently as when cooking at different altitudes). I never end up adding more than an extra 1/2 cup
- 4 ounces unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
- 2 cups mild cheddar, grated
- kosher salt, to taste
- black pepper, to taste
Following the cooking instructions on the pasta box, except cook for 2 minutes less than recommended.
Drain the pasta in a colander, rinse with cold water and lightly toss with your hands to prevent sticking. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a large saucepan just until warm to touch. Set aside.
In a large dutch oven heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions, stir and cook for soft; about 3 - 5 minutes. Do not let brown. Stir in the garlic.
Whisk in the flour and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the flour is slightly foamy. Do not let the flour turn golden or burn.
Over low heat slowly add the milk while whisking the entire time. Continue adding the milk and whisking until smooth. Cook until slightly thickened and the mixture should coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove from the heat and begin adding the cheese stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep adding the cheese and stirring until melted and smooth.
Fold in the pasta and stir to mix.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Gently reheat over low heat while stirring.