Macaroni and cheese is one of my absolute favorite foods. I order it at restaurants pretty much whenever I can (Prosperity in Tremont is my local favorite), and I really enjoy making it at home as well. I think it’s the ultimate comfort food, and it’s perfect for these cold, winter days (or a sunny, summer day — who cares!). Many years ago one of my friends introduced me to this recipe and I’ve been making it ever since, with my own spin.
Here’s what I’ve learned: mac and cheese is all about the cheese. It doesn’t need to be fancy (I usually use the generic store brands) but it needs to be really flavorful. One time I used just a regular cheddar and it was so bland. You need extra sharp cheddar, and then, my piece de resistance: pepper jack. The jack gives this mac and cheese a kick that’s totally unexpected… and totally good.
Here’s what you need for my mac and cheese (with a kick):
16 oz. elbow macaroni
1/4 cup diced onions
3 cups extra sharp cheddar, shredded
1 cup pepper jack, shredded
1-1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbs. dijon mustard (or if you live in Cleveland, stadium mustard, since it’s all we own, even though after seven years of living here I still won’t eat it on a hot dog and I still call it “weird Ohio brown mustard,” but it works for this)
Preheat oven to 400°.
1. Cook the noodles like usual in a large pot of water.
2. In the meantime, cook onions in oil until they’re softened, about 2-3 minutes.
3. When the noodles are done, drain them and put them back in the pot. Then add the shredded cheese (save about 1/4 of a cup of the cheddar for later), onions, mustard, sour cream and milk. Mix well. It always takes a lot of stirring to get the cheese to un-clump.
4. Pour the mixture into a baking pan and spread it around until even.
5. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese on top. I like to only use the cheddar for this part so it’s nice and golden orange, but that’s just me. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Any kind will do. Sometimes I make my own by putting a stale piece of bread in the food processor, and sometimes I use panko breadcrumbs that we have on hand.
6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until all the cheese on top has melted and formed an ooey-gooey delicious crust. The breadcrumbs will start to turn a golden brown, as well.
Serve and enjoy!
TIP: this mac and cheese is even better if you add cauliflower. I know it sounds weird, but trust me it’s so good! The cauliflower adds a little bit more texture and dimension, while also making this seem like a slightly more healthy dinner (you know, despite the massive amount of cheese). Due to an apparent miscommunication between me and Andy, I didn’t put cauliflower in this time. (I swear he told me he hates cauliflower, but apparently that’s not true? Sometimes I can’t keep track.) So next time I’m putting the cauliflower back in. To add the cauliflower, just chop into bite-size pieces and cook separately while you’re cooking the noodles. If you have a steamer, that’s perfect so you can do them both at the same time. Then mix the cooked cauliflower in with noodles when you add everything else. You may want to reduce the amount of noodles you use from 16 oz. to 12 oz. just to make sure you can fit everything in your baking pan.