I know it's very easy to open a box of macaroni and cheese. But I'm here to tell you homemade mac n'cheese can be made easily with minimal effort. Really. When I made this dish for a friend of mine when she came over for dinner with her kids, she said "Wow, my son really likes your macaroni and cheese. He usually doesn't eat this much." He's 13 months old by the way.
Another reason to make your own is economics. Compare the cost of this recipe to a box of macaroni and cheese. You are paying for a lot of packaging. I checked amazon.com and a box of Annies is over $2.00 per box and you still have to add your own butter/milk. Also, the yield of this recipe is larger than a box. It's about keeping key ingredients on hand; that's the trick.
On another, sort of related note, you might remember that for over the last year, I've been battling with my daughter's skin, trying to figure out why she has eczema and trying to control it. She's been gluten-free, dairy-free and a "list of other foods"-free for a long time. I always feel bad for her. She's almost 3 now and literally in the last week, I have noticed an improvement in her skin. I had allowed her to eat something she wasn't supposed to have and did not see any reaction.
Tonight I was out to test the theory, as I have been for the past few days. I decided to make homemade macaroni and cheese with regular pasta. If this didn't throw her skin into itchy-overload, I don't know what would. And I used to make boxed macaroni and cheese. It's not that it's that bad but when you compare it to fresh, well, there is no comparison. The taste and texture are wonderful. But knowing how to make a good bechamel sauce helps as well as how to flavor it. The other trick is the timing so that you can get this meal on the table in almost the same amount of time as opening a box. Here is a quick step-by-step list:
1. Heat water.
2. Make roux while you heat milk.
3. Make white sauce.
4. Cut some veggies.
5. Add pasta to boiling water.
6. Shut heat off of white sauce; add cheese.
7. Add some veggies for the last 2-3 minutes of pasta cooking.
8. Drain pasta/veggies.
9. Stir cheese sauce and add to pasta/veggies (you might have extra sauce)
10. Dive in.
Honestly, once you do this once, you will be amazed at how easy it is. You could even make the cheese sauce in the microwave.
I was a good girl today and actually measured my ingredients. If you know me, you know I want you to cook from your heart and eye ball a recipe. If that's not possible (yet), follow this recipe and get a feel for how much is in 3/4 of a cup of cheese or 1 tablespoon of flour. It makes cooking much easier.
I'll have to report back whether my daughter had a reaction. So far, so good. Sorry I didn't take a picture today. The food was hot and we started eating before I could get the camera out.
I served this tonight with sauteed chicken tenders along with a spinach salad with avocado, toasted pine nuts and strawberries. That's what was hanging around. And you know, I didn't always eat like this. Many of my meals used to include bread, wine, a heavy salad dressing, floured chicken...I've learned to keep things simple and healthy. I keep good ingredients in the fridge and pantry so it's easy...ok, easier.
I hope you will try this and see what the family thinks. Please let me know how it compares to that box of Kraft or even Annies.
Amy's Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese (Mac n'Cheese)
1 1/2 - 2 cups of dry pasta
1 Tbl butter or margarine
1 1/2 Tbl flour
1 cup of milk (you can also use plain soy or rice milk)
Sprinkle of nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
Few grinds of black pepper
Sprinkle of dry mustard and garlic powder
3/4 cup of shredded cheese (I used a combination of cheddar, parmesan and a shredded Italian blend that you might use for pizza)
1 cup of cut broccoli (or 1/2 cup frozen peas or spinach)
1. Heat water in a medium pot on the stove. Make sure to use a cover so that the water boils quickly. Make sure there is at least twice the amount of water as pasta. If you have plenty of water, you do not have to add any oil to the water; it won't stick.
2. While that comes to a boil, place a small pot on the stove. Over medium to medium-low heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk. This is your roux or thickening agent.
3. While that is cooking, heat milk in a glass measuring cup in the microwave until warm (1 minute works well). After roux has cooked for 2-4 minutes, slowly add milk to roux, stirring. Add spices. Continue to cook until slightly thickened. You might need to raise the temperature slightly.
4. The water should be ready by now. Once it is boiling, add at least 1 tsp of salt. Be careful because the water might spit a bit and burn you when you add the salt. Add pasta and stir. Set timer to 5 minutes.
5. Once white sauce (that's your milk sauce) has thickened slightly, turn off heat. Add cheese mixture and stir. Stir occasionally.
6. Once pasta has been cooking for 5 minutes, add veggies and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Most pasta is done in 8-10 minutes depending upon the shape. Make sure to taste the pasta for doneness before you drain.
7. Once pasta is done, drain and add back to pan. Add cheese and stir to combine. Serve immediately.