When I was kid, I never ate mac and cheese. I loathed it. Of course, my younger sister loved it, so I still had to suffer through the all-permeating smell of Kraft Mac & Cheese on a semi-regular basis, even though I would eat something else. I didn’t know that mac and cheese could be good; all I knew was fake cheese powder and slimy noodles. But then, I met Andrew, and through him, I saw the light.
To put it lightly, my darling husband is a cheese fiend. On his birthday growing up, he’d start off the day with a cheese omelet, enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich or two for lunch, have his mom’s homemade (this is the key here) macaroni and cheese for dinner, and would often finish up with cheesecake for dessert. The man loves cheese. Probably more than he loves me, but that’s not something I’m willing to test. Anyway, I digress.
A few years after we started dating, we went to Andrew’s parents’ house for dinner one night. It might have been a birthday celebration, but I honestly can’t remember. Either way, we were going to be eating his mom’s mac and cheese, and as a terribly picky eater, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to like it. But, to my great surprise, I loved it and even had a second helping. It was like entering a whole new world—a world in which I loved mac and cheese. Imagine that.
Maybe a year or so after that, I graduated college and moved down to Baltimore. That summer, Andrew was taking the first part of his dental board exam, and I wanted to do something special for him when he got home. I emailed his mom and asked for her terrific mac and cheese recipe so I could surprise Andrew with it when he arrived home from his boards. I even parked around the corner of our apartment complex so he wouldn’t know I was home (he finished his boards around lunchtime, so I took a half day at work to come home and surprise him).
Aside from the minor heart attack I gave him when he walked in the door and heard someone rummaging around in the kitchen when, by all rights, no one should be home, he appreciated having one of his all-time favorite meals ready for him after a stressful morning. I was just happy it came out right. Since then, mac and cheese has become a pretty common standby in our house, and after you try it, I bet it’ll become one in yours too! (Protip: it’s also a great dish to bring to potlucks, picnics, office parties, etc. Everyone always raves about it.)
- 1 box Cellantini pasta
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
- French’s onions
Step 1. Boil the pasta according to the directions on the box. You can also use elbows or shells—or really any pasta you like, probably—but cellantini is our personal favorite because it’s so fun and swirly.
Step 2. While the pasta is boiling, make a simple white sauce. First melt the 2 tbsp. of butter in a 2-cup measuring cup. Add the 2 tbsp. of flour and stir until you make a paste. Then pour in milk (you can use any kind; we usually use skim) to the 1-cup line. Microwave this mixture in 15- to 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until the sauce is creamy. (Note: Recently, we have been doubling this sauce recipe—4 tbsp. butter, 4 tbsp. flour, and milk to the 2-cup line—but this is totally optional. I recommend trying it with 1 cup of sauce first and then if you decide you need more, you can double it.)
Step 3. Drain the cooked pasta. In a Pyrex dish (we usually use an 8×8 square, but you could get away with a 9×13), pour in half of the cooked pasta, drizzle with half the sauce, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar (we use mild) and French’s onions. I like to be pretty liberal with the onions because I like the salt and little bit of crunch they add. Layer in the rest of the pasta, remaining sauce, remaining cheese, and some more onions for the top.
Step 4. Microwave for 5-6 minutes. If you want to use a 9×13 dish, make sure it fits in your microwave first—this is why we usually use the 8×8, even though it just barely fits all the mac and cheese. Alternately, you can put it in the oven for 25-30 minutes at 350°. When the onions on the top look brown and crispy, you’re good. Just don’t let them get *too* crispy—that slightly-burnt taste they can get doesn’t go great with the rest of the mac and cheese.
Step 5. Enjoy and try not to eat the whole dish. I know, it’s hard. But the leftovers are just as delicious!by