Every time I got to Cracker Barrel, I order the Mac and Cheese. There is just something so deliciously homey about the creamy, dreamy goodness that they spoon up on my plate. I always close my eyes for that first, glorious bite– and sometimes, if I listen very closely . . . I think maybe I can hear the angels sing. But of course I can’t eat at Cracker Barrel as often as I would like to, so I had to do the next best thing . . . keep experimenting until I came up with a Mac and Cheese recipe that tasted like the one I craved– soft and cheesy with a kiss of black pepper and a whole ‘lotta soul. And baby . . . I think I found it.
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Copycat Cracker Barrel Mac and Cheese
(My own recreation of it 🙂
1 1/2 (dry) cups elbow noodles
2 tsp. olive oil (for drizzling over cooked and drained noodles)
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 “inches” processed cheese log
1/2 cup cheddar cheese for topping, if desired
Boil elbow noodles according to package directions, until soft. Drain noodles and toss with olive oil to keep noodles from sticking. Set noodles aside until cheese sauce is ready. To make cheese sauce, melt butter in a saucepan. When butter is melted add in salt, pepper, dry mustard, chicken bouillon granules, and flour. Whisk mixture together (it will be dry and pull into a ball as you whisk) and slowly add in the milk, whisking out the lumps after each addition and allowing mixture to thicken slightly before adding more milk. When all the milk is added, cook and whisk for a few minutes until mixture is thick like a gravy. Add in cubed processed cheese log (like Velveeta) and stir until mixture is smooth. Add in cooked and drained noodles and stir. Serve immediately, topping with extra shredded cheddar cheese for garnish, if desired.
Now, in pictures! 🙂
I love just about any kind of mac and cheese (check out my Classic Baked Mac and Cheese, Gluten Free Mac and Cheese, and Creamy White Mac and Cheese), but I love this one because it’s ready right away, instead of having to bake it, first. I like to get my noodles boiling while I start the sauce so that they will be ready when my CHEEEEESE is done. Boil the noodles according to package directions until they are soft (it takes me about 9 minutes). When the noodles are finished, drain the noodles and toss them with a few teaspoons of olive oil. The oil just keeps the noodles from sticking together; this way they will be nice and separated when you pour them into your ooey, gooey cheese sauce. 🙂 No macaroni clumps for us!
Now let’s start making the sauce. We are going to make a “white sauce,” or a “roux.” Start out by melting your butter over medium low heat. When the butter is melted, add in your salt, pepper, dry mustard (NOT the mustard you put on hot dogs– this is the powdered kind you find in the spice aisle), chicken bouillon granules (like Herb Ox– in the soup aisle, usually), and flour. When you whisk the dry spices into the melted butter, the mixture will kind of seize up into this tiny, floury little ball. But don’t worry. We’re going to relax it here, in a minute. 🙂
Once you have whisked your spices into the butter, start gradually adding your milk. Add the milk little by little, whisking well and letting the mixture simmer a bit after each addition. Each time you will see floury lumps, but just keep whisking and soon the lumps will be gone. Don’t you wish you could just whisk yourself and get all the lumps out??? haha. The more you whisk and heat the white sauce, the thicker it will become. As it thickens, keep adding more milk and whisking and heating. Think deep thoughts. Great food can’t be rushed.
And soon, all your milk will be added. When you have whisked it a bit and gotten it all nice and thick, go ahead and add your cubed processed cheese (like Velveeta). I use about 1 1/2″ of the “log.” I’m not sure how many ounces that is, but that’s how I tell how much cheese to use. Scientific, right? haha.
Stir the mixture over medium low heat until your cheese is all nice and melty. You need to cook the sauce until it’s thick enough that you can leave a little line in the pan when you draw your spoon through it. That means your sauce is ready. Remember those noodles that we made, earlier, and tossed with olive oil? Now it’s time for those little beauties to shine. Go ahead and add them into the cheesy loveliness you just created.
Oh man. YUM. I usually heat this pot full of pure loveliness for a minute or two, just to make sure the noodles are nice and warm. But then . . . then it’s time for the best part.
Dip up big, steaming bowls of creamy, cheesy goodness. Sprinkle a little cheddar cheese on top, if you want. You don’t have to do this, of course, but I am of the opinion that more cheese is always a good thing. You may quote me.
I tell you what . . . big, steaming dishes of this glorious stuff on a chilly fall evening . . . that may be one of life’s little indulgences, my friend.
And after the kiddos are in bed, you just might decide to cuddle up on the couch with your honey and have a little more of this ooey, gooey, cheesy bliss. If your date nights are anything like ours, you will probably find yourself nodding off on the couch around 9:00. haha. But don’t worry. There’s always tomorrow.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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