Creamy White Macaroni and Cheese

Yum

 A wise person once said, “There is nothing in this world more motivating than cheese.”  Ooooohhh . . . that is so true.  It is very hard to resist anything oozing with cheese.  You can save just about any failed dish or hated dinner entrée by burying its horror under a thick layer of the glorious stuff.  Photographers get you to say “cheese” when you get your picture taken. They say it’s because the sound of the word makes you show your teeth. I say it’s because just conjuring up the mental image of it makes everyone smile.  There’s nothing better than amazing, ooey, gooey cheese.  This White Macaroni and Cheese is a beautiful side dish loaded up with the ooey gooey goodness.  And you really should make it as soon as possible– because cheese is calcium.  It’s for your own health, really.  At least, that’s what I tell myself, when I make it.  😉
So what are we waiting for?  Let’s do this!


White Macaroni and Cheese

(adapted from Allrecipes.com base recipe)

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. margarine or butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
12 oz. Velveeta cheese
3 cups shredded white cheese of choice (I used a mixture of provolone, mozzarella, and white cheddar)
2 cups dry elbow macaroni, cooked and drained


Directions:

Melt butter and olive oil in a medium Dutch Oven.  Sauté onions until they become transparent and soft.  Add spices and stir.  Add flour and slowly add the milk, stirring out the lumps as you add milk.  When all the milk has been added, add the Velveeta cheese.  When the Velveeta has finished melting, slowly add the shredded cheeses, stirring until all the cheese is melted and combined.  Add the cooked and drained elbow noodles, stirring well to mix thoroughly. Top with Panko crumbs or crushed Ritz crackers, if desired.  Bake at 350 until bubbly and just starting to brown– about 1/2 hour if hot, or 45 minutes to an hour if you have refrigerated the mixture pre-bake.

Now, in pictures!

First, place your margarine/butter and olive oil into a medium Dutch Oven on medium low heat, until the butter melts. You know, as I look at this butter, I am amazed at how many delicious recipes start with a big empty pot and a teensy little bit of butter.  It’s the foundation for greatness, really.  My favorite Dutch Oven is the Cadillac of cast iron– the gorgeous Le Creuset, here.  These beauties are worth the investment– they last forever, and you can use them for everything from no knead bread to homemade spaghetti sauce.
Add your chopped onion and stir. If you are using cast iron, keep the heat medium low– about a 3.  You want the onions to look slowly so that we coax out their flavor without burning them.
Allow the onions to happily soak in their spa day.  Meanwhile, get your macaroni boiling.  It takes about 7-8 minutes to boil macaroni “au dente” (it should have a little “bite” of firmness to it, and not be floppy or overly cooked).  We want these little gals to be ready for action when their cheesy carriage arrives to whisk them away to the perfect evening.
When the onions have cooked enough that they are soft and kind of “see through,” go ahead and add your salt, pepper, and dry mustard.  Stir the spices in thoroughly, and then add your flour.  Your mixture will become kind of a paste.
Begin to add your milk, a little bit at a time.  The mixture will kind of “drink up” the milk as you stir.  This is the beginning of a white sauce, or “roux.”  Continue to stir as you add the milk, little by little, stirring out the lumps as you go.  Don’t add the milk too fast– just allow the mixture to thicken and become a single sauce, without any liquid layer, before you add more.  Basically, let your sauce “drink” the milk before you add more.  Easy peasy.
When you have finished adding all the milk, you should have a nice white sauce that will cling to the back of your spoon.  It will definitely be thicker than milk, but not thick enough to be a solid.  Maybe the consistency of buttermilk?  Something like that.
You’ve never had buttermilk?!?!?  Goodness.  I will pray for you.
Add in your Velveeta cheese and stir until the cheese is melted, completely.  If you want to speed this process along, kind of split the Velveeta into cubes, with your spoon, as you stir.
When all the Velveeta is melted, go ahead and add in your shredded cheese.  Continue stirring until all of the cheese is melted.
And remember.  You can add any kind of cheese you want into the mixture.  As long as you have 3 cups of shredded cheese, total, you can go nuts.  Add White Cheddar, Provolone, Swiss, Gruyere . . . hey.  Add anything that makes you happy.
No.  You may not add Ryan Reynolds to your sauce.
Even if he makes you happy.
Add in your (cooked and drained) macaroni and stir until the cheese completely covers the noodles.
Here’s where it gets fun. You can eat this macaroni and cheese just like it is . . . it’s perfectly delicious, that way.
Or . . . you can top with your favorite toppings and bake (which takes it from delicious to DELECTABLE).  I chose to top with panko bread crumbs (about 1 cup of crumbs mixed with a few tbsp. of melted butter to get them to clump, a little bit, and brown like heaven when they baked), but . . . are you ready for this?  You can literally do WHATEVER YOU WANT.  Here are some other toppings that I’ve been brainstorming that would be amazing on top:
1.  Crushed Ritz crackers
2.  Bacon and shredded cheddar cheese
3.  Chives and chopped scallions
4.  Sliced hot dogs (for a classic childhood memory 🙂
5.  Chopped Christmas ham and your favorite cheese
6.  Sliced olives, peppers, and feta cheese
7.  Lobster tail and buttered bread crumbs
Wow. It’s endless.  You could experiment with almost anything.  Use your favorite toppings and definitely make it your own.  That’s the best part about recipes– they really change with each person who makes them.  Oh . . . it’s just great.
White Macaroni and Cheese
And so is this macaroni and cheese.  Just.  GREAT.  Sigh.
So go ahead and have some.  Because you did it.  And I’m just so proud of you.

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