No-Fuss Mac and Cheese!

With the holidays in a full swing, having a few easy to prepare dishes in your arsenal will be useful. This is one of them. With a few steps done in advance, your mac and cheese will be ready when you are!

I think mac and cheese must be the all time favorite for children, a comfort food.  My kids used to eat it out of the box, the bright orange kind!  As they become more sophisticated in their palate, I think now they prefer the homemade one.

There are many different ways to make mac and cheese.  My kids love it oozing with cheese and creamy, so I always started with bechemel and then added a handful of grated cheese to it, a little at a time to make creamy, smooth cheese sauce.  One can not rush this step!  If you add too much cheese, your sauce will not be creamy. I learned it the hard way. Be patient and you will be rewarded. Then I add cooked elbow macaroni to the cheese mixture, pour it in a greased baking pan, top with cheese, and bake.

I used to make it often when my kids were still at home.  I would freeze them in individual servings.  When hunger strikes or when my son brings some of his famished friends home after their vigorous skate sessions, he just takes them out of the freezer and nukes them in microwave.  The mac and cheese came out just like it was just baked.  In fact, when my husband went to Thailand last trip, he hand carried these little packages of mac and cheese to my daughter in Chiang Mai, just little taste of home from Mama, together with some sous vide steaks and blocks of cheese.  I think the mac and cheese was devoured first, even before the steak!  I did this also when she was in college in Chicago.  When I visited her I brought her a full luggage load of prepared food, all her favorites. She took it out of the luggage and piled it all on a kitchen table and took pictures.  It was quite a scene.

I have done this recipe I am about to share with you before.  It needs some planning.  You have to do it the night before and it will be ready to bake in the morning.  Or you can do it in the morning, leave it in the fridge, about 8 hours or so, and bake it for dinner when you come home.  Sounds doable, right?

Anyone can make this mac and cheese.  You need 16 oz. dried elbow macaroni, 3 cups cream, 2 cups whole milk, 4 cups grated cheese plus more to sprinkle on top, a few grates of fresh nutmeg (optional), pepper, salt, oh, and a kitchen timer!

Set a large pot of water on high heat to a rolling boil, add salt, and a whole bag of elbow macaroni, stir a couple of times.  Once the water boils again, set your timer for 5 minutes.  After five minutes, drain the pasta immediately and put in in a greased 9x13 baking pan. Your pasta will be very al dente but you can still bite into it.  Then add cream. milk, and the grated cheese to the pasta.  For cheese, you can use whatever you like.  I prefer a mixture of fontina, cheddar, and gruyere. Add some nutmeg (if you wish), pepper and salt. Start with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, depending on how salty your cheese is.  You can add more salt but you can not take it out.  Carefully mix it well.  It will be quite full (you can mix it up in a big bowl and then pour in the pan, I prefer to have fewer dishes to wash!).  The mixture will be quite watery but don't be alarmed.  It will work out.  I promise.  Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and park it in the fridge overnight or at least 8 hours.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 350, and take your mac and cheese out of the fridge.  At this point, it has absorbed most of the liquid.  It should look a bit dry on top but still very moist inside.  Take off the plastic wrap and put more cheese on top.  You want it cheesy, right? Then cover it with a piece of foil that has been sprayed with non stick spray (to prevent the cheese from sticking).  Bake, covered for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake it 20-25 minutes more, until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown on top. Let it cool a bit and enjoy. I like mine very hot so the cheese is still melty and oozy!

My son is coming home for the holidays.  I will be cooking up a storm to feed him and his hungry friends.  I am glad to have this easy dish that feeds a crowd in my repertoire. Aren't you glad you have it too?

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Packages of mac and cheese ready for the freezer.

Packages of mac and cheese ready for the freezer.