The Dreamiest Mac and Cheese

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Every weekend, Andrew and I have one ‘cheat’ meal. We try to be fairly healthy and fill up with nutritious foods all week, but when it comes to our cheat meal, literally anything is fair game.

Probably once a month for the past 2 years, Andrew has requested mac and cheese. While we don’t quite have it that often (not even close), I am glad to say that this recipe is just about perfect! I was poking around to find a highly-rated recipe, and of course, Ree comes through with this winner!

Start by heating a large pot of water over medium-high heat.  (Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you plan on baking this dish, I didn’t)

Grate your cheeses, about 12 oz. I used fontina and extra sharp cheddar, which I found provided the perfect amount of creaminess and sharpness.

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When the water starts to boil, add in about 1 tablespoon of salt (VERY important!), and drop your pasta in. Undercook the pasta by 2 minutes or so compared to the package. I cooked mine for about 6 minutes, and the package said 8.

In a separate large sauce pot, we will start our cheese sauce with a roux. I used to be intimated by the thought of a roux, will it be too clumpy?, will i burn it?, what if it doesn’t thicken?…and then I actually attempted it, and it couldn’t be easier!

Add the butter in and let it melt. Once melted, add in the 4 tablespoons of flour. Begin to whisk and whisk. It will start out pretty white in color, and you’ll cook the roux until it becomes brown – similar to the picture below. It should take about 4 or 5 minutes to get to this point.

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Now your pasta should be ready to drain.

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Add the milk into your roux along with paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.If you want a little tang, add in 1 teaspoon mustard powder. If you want some heat, add in 1/2-1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

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Stir until it becomes thick, about 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low.

Now we’re making things rich!!! Take 1/4 cup of the hot sauce and slowly add it into the beaten egg. Whisk constantly until the mixture becomes cool. We’re tempering the egg so it doesn’t instantly scramble when we add it to the sauce.

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Now add the egg mixture into the sauce and whisk until combined. Add the cheese into the sauce and whisk until it is fully incorporated.

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Give it a taste and add the salt and pepper. I found I needed a full teaspoon of salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. I like the powdery black pepper here, rather than freshly cracked black pepper. We want things to stay smooth.

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Mix in the salt and pepper until blended.

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Give it another taste and make sure it is well seasoned. Don’t skimp on the salt. Use all the willpower you have to try not to keep tasting the cheese sauce until it’s gone….. Add in the cooked pasta.

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Mix together until all the noodles are coated.

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You are welcome to stop here, grab a bowl, and dig in!! However, with my severe need for crunch, I decided to toast up some panko. In a small pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add in panko breadcrumbs.

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Mix to coat, and let the breadcrumbs toast until they become dark brown.

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Once they are nice and toasty, make yourself a huge bowl of comfort food, topped with a sprinkle of crunchy goodness.

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Note: Ree makes this as a baked mac & cheese, but I prefer the creaminess of the recipe as-is. If you want to bake it, add the mac & cheese to a buttered baking dish, top with the 1/2 cup of additional cheese, and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.


Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman

Makes: 6-8 servings

Prep: 15 minutes, Cook: 20 minutes, Total: 35 minutes

  • 4 cups dried cavatappi (corkscrew shape)
  • 4 tablespooons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons (optional, for topping)
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 whole egg, beaten in a small bowl
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 12 oz cheese, I used 6 oz sharp cheddar + 6 oz fontina (about 3 cups) plus 2 oz (1/2 cup) if you plan to bake the dish
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1 tablespoon for salting your water
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2-1 cup panko breadcrumbs (optional, for topping)

Start by heating a large pot of water over medium-high heat. (Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you plan on baking this dish, I didn’t)

Grate your cheese.

When the water starts to boil, add in about 1 tablespoon of salt and drop your pasta in. Undercook the pasta by about 2 minutes compared to the package directions.

In a separate large sauce pot, we will start our cheese sauce with a roux. Add the butter in and let it melt. Once melted, add in the 4 tablespoons of flour. Begin to whisk and whisk, constantly. Cook the roux until it becomes brown. It should take about 4 or 5 minutes to get to this point.

Drain your pasta.

Add the milk into your roux along with paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder. If you want a little tang, add in 1 teaspoon mustard powder. If you want some heat, add in 1/2-1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Whisk until it becomes thick, about 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low.

Take 1/4 cup of the hot sauce and slowly add it into the beaten egg. Whisk constantly until the mixture becomes cool. Add the egg mixture into the sauce and whisk until combined.

Now, add the cheese into the sauce and whisk until it is fully incorporated.

Give it a taste and add the salt and pepper, I used 1 teaspoon of salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Mix until blended.

Give it another taste and make sure it is well seasoned. Don’t skimp on the salt. Add in the cooked pasta. Mix together until all the noodles are coated.

Eat is as-is, or if you like some crunch (which I recommend) melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add in panko breadcrumbs. Mix to coat, and let the breadcrumbs toast until they become dark brown.

Once they are nice and toasty, make yourself a huge bowl of comfort food, topped with a sprinkle of crunchy goodness.

If baking – add the mac & cheese to a buttered baking dish, top with the 1/2 cup of additional cheese, and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.


3 thoughts on “The Dreamiest Mac and Cheese

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