I really enjoy Sundays. It’s not very often that we don’t have something going on and I can use the day to spend my time as I wish. This often involves a variety of household activities but I try to center them around things I enjoy doing. Since I have more time than most other days, Sunday is a great day to make a good meal. It’s also a good day for a little indulgence… and homemade Mac and Cheese is definitely one of my favorite meals to indulge. I think everyone has a soft spot for it…or has a few soft spots from it…
Last Sunday I made my own version. This recipe is my modification from several that I’ve tried. I like it because there is lots of room to add your own twist on things. This variation will hopefully prompt some creative ideas you can use in making everyone’s favorite comfort food.
1 lb pasta (your favorite kind but shells or elbows probably work best here)
1/4-1/3c bread crumbs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup half and half
8oz sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic (or 2 small)
1/4 c flour
1 to 1/2 stick butter
dijon mustard or mustard powder
Next you want to get your ‘prep work’ done. Most recipes have a time for prep work and it’s usually better to get things chopped and diced before you start cooking. Finely chop your garlic and dice your onion.
I cut the top and bottom of my onion off first.
Next, I cut vertically along the onion just deep enough to slice through the peel/skin and the first layer. This allows me to peel back the skin easily.
I cut the onion in half, then cut the halves into horizontal layers. I can then dice the horizontal layers easily into smaller pieces.
While the onion and garlic are cooking use this time to shred your cheese if you haven’t already done so. I really like using cheddar for baked dishes like this, especially in Mac and Cheese, but you can use whatever you like.
After the onions have cooked down, sprinkle the flour in evenly over top the onions and butter. Add the flour in layers, stirring in between to make sure you don’t get lumps. The texture of the onion mixture will change so it feels more like a paste. Immediately afterwards, stir in the two cups of milk and the 1/2 cup of half and half. Use a whisk and pour the liquids in slowly while mixing to make sure lumps don’t form. If you’d like a richer sauce, feel free to use whole milk or heavy cream instead of the skim and half and half mixture I used.
Once the sauce is smooth you can add your flavorings. I used a tbsp of dijon mustard. Dry mustard, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and anything else you want to try would probably taste great.
The sauce should now look like this. Although the flour thickened the sauce some, adding an egg will make the mac and cheese even more ‘ooey-gooey’ and stick together once it’s baked. We don’t want to scramble the egg so make sure you temper it before adding it to the sauce.
To temper- beat the egg in a small bowl, then slowly add about 1/4c of the cream sauce, whisking constantly while you pour. Once this mixture is smooth, you can slowly pour it back into the cream base, again while constantly whisking.
Does this make you happy or what? Reserve a handful or two of the cheese and stir in rest until it melts down…
For toppings I used breadcrumbs, the reserved cheddar cheese, and then some freshly grated parm. This is another place where you can add your own variety….crushed Ritz crackers would work or adding some different flavored cheeses…you could even opt out on the breading I just think it adds some nice texture. Bake at 350 until golden bubbly (20-30 minutes). I keep the dish covered with foil until I can see that it’s starting to bubble, then I remove the foil and let the toppings melt down for another 5-7 minutes.
A meal isn’t complete without some veggies and I couldn’t resist buying some fresh asparagus at the grocery store. Since I was already using my oven I decided to roast the asparagus. To prepare: rinse the asparagus first, then…
hold up one stalk in both hands and bend the asparagus into an upside down U shape. It will snap in two somewhere about 1/3 from the bottom. The top two thirds is the tender part to be used, the bottom part is the stalk which will be firmer and slightly ‘woody’ in taste.
Use the ‘snapped’ asparagus as a guide and lay it next to the bunch. Trim the rest of the stalks at about the same length and compost the woody stems.
Lay the asparagus across a baking sheet and drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with S&P. You can add more flavor if you’d like… some other things I’ve done is throw on some chopped garlic and/or lemon juice. Asparagus is good enough to eat raw though and I really enjoy celebrating its natural flavor so I go as minimal as possible with adding other flavors. Since your oven is on and finishing up your Mac and Cheese, pop the asparagus in there and let them roast. I put them in about the time I take the foil off the Mac and Cheese…both only need 6-7 minutes to finish up.