Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese is the definition of comfort. Pasta and creamy cheese sauce, baked to perfection, and topped with a golden crust. Get ready, your family will request this over and over again.
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I’ve only eaten boxed mac & cheese once in my life. There. I said it. Everyone thinks I’m crazy when I say that, but it’s true. My mom’s theory was, you can make the real thing in the same amount of time it takes to make the stuff in the box. She is 100% correct, and the real thing tastes 1000% better. Why would you eat powdered cheese that’s been in a box for who knows how long, when you could eat fresh cheese instead?!
Most of the time my mom made the traditional version: macaroni, cheese, and a little butter. However, for special occasions, or if I asked for it, she made Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese. My parents are from Trinidad, and Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese is a staple at any party/gathering. So I knew for every family or social event we attended, I could get my fix.
I never learned to cook as a kid; as a matter of fact, I didn’t learn much more than eggs and pasta until college. It never bothered me growing up that I couldn’t cook, but looking back I do wish I had spent more time in the kitchen. When I was ready to move into an apartment with Kara right after college, I figured I should learn how to make a few basic dishes so I wouldn’t starve or eat out all the time. Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese was at the top of my list. My mom didn’t have a recipe though…it was “a little of this, a dash of that”. I watched her make it a couple of times, and it took some trial and error, but I finally got it right.
Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite dishes on earth. The creamy cheese sauce, the seasonings, the crumb topping. You name it, I love it. I mean, how can you not love such a bowl of comfort? When I’m not feeling well, or I’ve had a bad day, or when I just need something warm and comforting, I go to my Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese. There’s just something about it that you don’t get from other types of food. I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t like macaroni & cheese, and I’m not sure I would trust someone who said they didn’t! Whenever I make it for friends it gets rave reviews, and Kara always requests that I make it whenever she comes to visit.
KEY ELEMENTS OF BAKED HOMEMADE MAC AND CHEESE
Yes, Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese is more time and labor-intensive than traditional. But trust me, it’s worth it.
- Macaroni – I almost always use elbow macaroni. I also use Cellentani, a longer, double-curved elbow shape.
- Cheese – sharp Cheddar cheese is my favorite type to use. My mom always used yellow cheddar, so that’s what I used in the beginning. A few years ago I switched to white cheddar. Honestly, I think the color is all about personal preference. But you do want a sharp cheese that will stand up well to the other ingredients in the sauce. I’ve seen other baked mac & cheese recipes that use different types of cheese. I haven’t personally done that, but as long as you use a good melting cheese, it will be delicious.
- Onion & Garlic: I add finely minced onion & garlic into the cheese sauce. The only complaint I’ve ever heard was from Kara’s stepdaughter who, at 10 years old, didn’t like anything! If you don’t like fresh you can omit one or both, but then you will need to add onion powder and/or garlic powder to get the same flavor. It’s not overwhelming, but you definitely miss it if it’s not there
- Mustard: I add yellow mustard because my mom does. If you don’t like mustard, then omit it
- Evaporated Milk: Like the mustard, I use evaporated milk because my mom does. For a while I tried to lighten it up by using 2% milk, but the sauce was too watery. Then I tried 2% evaporated milk, but it was still too thin, and I ended up mixing it with regular. So now I’m back to regular evaporated milk
- Corn Flake Crumbs: Just a light sprinkle of the crumbs before baking creates a beautiful crust on top. The crumbs turn a gorgeous golden brown in the oven, which just adds to the goodness. I have not tried Panko bread crumbs, but it would probably be a good substitute. I have used seasoned bread crumbs, and those work well.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHEESE
Let’s go back to the cheese for a minute. I recently received a Cheesy Shipment, an assortment of Cabot cheddar cheese. I’m a huge cheese fan, and am always on the lookout for new types and varieties. I’ve only ever seen Extra Sharp cheddar at my local grocery store, so I was excited to learn about all the available varieties. This is only a portion of what Cabot cheese offers! If you love cheese as much as I do, then you need to check out all of their cheeses. I used the New York Vintage cheddar cheese this time, and it was perfect.
DON’T FORGET THE BUTTER
Growing up, we cooked with butter; I don’t even know if there were other options when I was a kid. By the time I started cooking we had switched to margarine; then years later I switched to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter; and, most recently, I switched to Smart Balance. Yes, the spreads are lighter and have fewer calories, but they don’t melt as well and the texture isn’t nearly the same. About a year ago I started using real butter again in my cooking. It has so much more flavor than imitation spreads, and you don’t need as much to get the same impact. A few months ago I discovered this amazing homemade butter at the Amish market in Chocteau OK. I use it when I make Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese, and it makes such a difference. It melts more evenly, and creates a very silky milk sauce.
I don’t make Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese that often, because I have no self control. And let’s be honest, it is quite rich. I make a small portion, and plan to save half of it for another meal. Then I find myself taking “just one more bite” here and there. And before you know it, I’ve eaten the whole thing. Even when I make it for parties, I find myself eating way more than I should. So Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese is an occasional treat for me.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD?
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- 1 1/4 cups dry elbow macaroni
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 1 - 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 Tablespoon finely minced onion
- 2 cloves finely minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard (optional)
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
- Corn flake crumbs (for topping)
- 1 teaspoons onion powder (if you do not use fresh onion)
- 1 teaspoons garlic powder (oif you do not use fresh garlic)
Pre-heat oven to 375F
In a pot of boiling, salted water cook macaroni for about 9 minutes. It will still be very al dente, but will finish cooking in the oven later.
In large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour little by little and stir constantly, until flour has dissolved
Add evaporated milk. Stir constantly for about 2 minutes
Add salt and pepper. If you are using fresh onion and garlic, add that. If not, add onion powder and garlic powder
Add mustard. Stir to fully combine
Add cheese. Stir slowly until cheese is fully melted. Continue stirring slowly and constantly for another 3-4 minutes, until cheese sauce has a rich consistency. You don't want a watery sauce, or it won't bake properly. The sauce should be thick enough that it stays on the back of a spoon
Drain macaroni, and add to cheese sauce. Mix completely
Spray baking dish with cooking spray. Add macaroni and cheese sauce. Sprinkle with corn flake crumbs. If desired, top with a few small pats of butter.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce is set. Remove from oven, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Enjoy!