One of my all time favor foods is Mac n Cheese. It is quick, inexpensive, and reheats well in a microwave, which makes it a perfect meal for busy students.
Variations can run the gamut from straight out of the box to a number of tasty additions made with a little extra effort. I encourage you to take the base recipe, and play around with it. Use different cheeses beside cheddar like jack, provolone, fontina, parmesan, and havarti.
Add some cream or half and half for richness instead of milk, or use skim milk and whole wheat pasta to lighten it up. Try some soft cheese like marscapone, soft goat, or sheep cheese. Bake a bread crumb and cheese crust on top, or switch up the shape of pasta. I have include from scratch recipes, but for the most part I must confess that I usually use the box. I like Amy’s brand for box mac n cheese.
Tip: For some reason the cheese found behind the deli counter is cheaper than the block, or prepackaged version of the same brand and variety. Checking the price behind the counter can save you up to 20-50%.
Mac N Cheese: Base Recipe Serves 4
1 pound dried pasta(elbow macaroni, small shells, penne)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup of cream(optional)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or combination of cheeses) About 8 ounces
pinch of smoked paprika (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook the flour and butter for a few minutes, Add the milk, and stir with a whisk until smooth. Stir and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5-10 minutes until thick minutes. Continue to stir with a whisk to make sure the flour does not stick to the bottom. Meanwhile bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente (it has a slight tooth to the bite). Drain off the water from the pasta. Stir in the cream if using and the cheese and let it melt. Stir in the pasta to the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste and grate some fresh parmesan on top.
Baked topping option: Mix together 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 3/4 cup of bread crumbs, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Add the cooked mac n cheese to a casserole pan, top with crumb mixture, and baked at 350 till top is gold brown, about 15-20 minutes.
From the Box: Most boxes have five ounces of pasta, and a cheese package, and serves two. For the box version of these recipes, use three boxes of your favorite box mac n cheese, some milk, and a cup of shredded cheese.
Salsa Mac N Cheese variations:
Follow the base recipe, and add 1-2 cups of your favorite salsa at the end, and teaspoon of chipotle chili power, or 2 teaspoons of chipotle hot sauce or to taste. Serve with a wedge of lime.
Salsa Mac N Cheese with Steak:
Follow the salsa mac recipe, and add 8 ounces of grilled or broiled sirloin steak cut into cubes.
Spinach Mac w/chicken variations:
Follow the base recipe, and add bag of frozen spinach. Thaw the spinach, and squeeze out the excess liquid. Stir in the spinach to the sauce at the end. Add the pasta and 1-2 cups of dice cooked or canned chicken breast.
Buffalo Chicken Mac: Inspired by buffalo chicken wings.
Follow the base recipe, and add 1/4 cup of Franks Red Hot sauce, or too taste, and 1-2 cups of diced cooked or canned chicken breast. Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime (optional ). Garnish with crumpled blue cheese, and crisp bacon bits (optional).
Note: My favorite Blue cheese is Roque Creamery smokey blue available at Plum Market in Ann Arbor.
The Odd Todd Tribute Recipe: Serves 1-2 (oddtodd.com)
Odd Todd is a character from a popular web cartoon. He is featured on various TV shows included America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. This is his recipe.
Box of Mac n Cheese
A Can of Tuna
A Can of Peas
Cook up a box of mac n cheese, mix in a can of tuna, and a can of peas (Its Good)
The Upscale Odd Todd:
Use Fresh, or frozen peas, and 1-3 ounces of smoked salmon instead of canned tuna, or substitute a can of shrimp, or crab meat.
Recipe and image provided with permission from OddTodd.com
Chili Mac: Serve 4-6
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces elbow macaroni
1 16 ounces can kidney beans, undrained
1 16 can tomato sauce
1 cup water, or milk
1-2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1 /2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
cup of cream (optional)
In a large pan, add the oil and brown the onion with the ground beef. Add macaroni, kidney beans, tomato sauce, water, chili powder, and salt. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Add 1- 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. Cover and continue to heat until cheese is melted. Stir in the cream if using. Adjust salt, pepper, and chili powder to taste.
*This article originally appeared in The Washtenaw Voice