Cravings: Traditional Macaroni and Cheese

Like most children, I was exposed early and often to the wonders of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. To this day, I can conjure the weird orangey-yellow (or is it yellowy-orange?) color of the final dish in my mind…and, with a little work, I can sort of recall the flavor. It is a food perfectly designed for finicky nine-year olds and broke college students.

I don’t know when I stopped eating boxed macaroni and cheese, but I do remember when I started making my own. It came after a meal at the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill in Austin, Texas. They make a fantastic mac and cheese dish, and I was hooked!

I worked hard to perfect my recipe — which was all about a blend of cheeses melting together into yumminess. It became my signature dish for book club gatherings (and thank you to my book club for eating every wild experiment, including the unfortunate night where I used soy milk!) And when I had to cut out the gluten from the dish, I wasn’t deterred. In fact, I was even more determined to keep mac and cheese in my repertoire.

This is not a food for dieters. It consists of at least three cups of cheese. Cheddar, Gruyere, and Monterey Jack are all great cheeses that melt well into the sauce. I sometimes do a mix of Monterey Jack and Jalapeno Jack. I’ve also incorporated smoked Gouda, Brie, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano…whatever catches my fancy — as long as the cheese has a good meltiness factor, it’s a candidate. Heck, try some cream cheese for a bit of extra sour yumminess.

You also need milk, butter, and GF panko-style bread crumbs if you’re baking this dish. Oh, and a bit of rice flour to make a roux. Traditional recipes also include mustard powder, and I am a fan of this flavor. Be generous with the mustard for extra punch! Paprika is also a favorite ingredient. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with a smoky paprika. And black pepper. Mac and cheese doesn’t need any additional salt, but it begs for good pepper.

In addition to a blend of cheeses, I also add flavor with onions, diced peppers, and other seasonings. For example, adding one or two roasted jalapenos to your cheese sauce gives it kick that everyone loves. Sour cream is an unexpected flavor when added to the cheese sauce.

But wait!, there’s more. You can add vegetables like broccoli (cut the florets small) or meat like chicken or sausage. If you’re feeling decadent, top the final dish with a bit crumbled bacon (because, seriously, what makes a gooey mac and cheese more unhealthy? Bacon.). Oh, heck, just add the bacon to the cheese sauce. You can work out an extra half-hour tomorrow.

I find most rice pastas don’t hold up well in this dish — they tend to fall apart too quickly. I use corn pastas, which seem to hold their shape longer. I also use a lot of sauce since gluten-free pastas tend to be very absorbent.

I rarely make mac and cheese for family consumption, but if there’s a party, it’s a dish I bring regularly (chili being another favorite for serving a crowd). And because there are generally leftovers, I get to enjoy rich, yummy mac and cheese for lunch!

What are your favorite dishes to prepare for a crowd? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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