I grew up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. The blue box with the skinny little noodles that Mom combined with a 1/4 cup of “Oleo” as she called margarine (she NEVER used butter) and 1/4 cup of low-fat milk was a crowd pleaser to my sister, brother and I. Later she would splurge on the more expensive box of “Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese” with it’s tiny can of cheese sauce in it, but, to my taste, you still can’t beat the skinny blue box.
Thankfully, as I grew so too did my palate. I rarely pass up a macaroni and cheese on any menu and have developed a couple of favorite styles: Lobster macaroni and cheese, if it has large claw chunks (and not just minced remnants), is my favorite, followed by a good white cheddar shells and cheese prepared with a hint of truffle oil and just a few exotic mushrooms.
When I’m cooking Macaroni and Cheese, I like it to have enough flavor, that if I served nothing else beside it, except maybe a tossed green salad, it could stand alone as a “Meatless Monday” main dish. You won’t need a fire extinguisher nearby for this spirited macaroni and cheese, but you certainly won’t fall asleep while you’re eating it either.
Lisa’s Fired-Up Mac & Cheese
- 1 – 16oz Box Cellentani Pasta (I use Barilla)
- 8 TBLS Butter / Divided
- 1/2 Cup Flour
- 3 1/4 Cups Whole Milk
- 1 tsp Dry Mustard
- 3/4 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp White Pepper
- 3 Tsp Chili Powder
- 1/4 Cup Hot Pepper Sauce (I prefer Frank’s Red Hot)
- 1 1/2 Cups + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
- 2 + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
- 3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 2/3 Cup Panko
Before you start, I have a couple of tips.
- If you can’t find shredded Pepper Jack or Sharp Cheddar you can always use the packaged slices and tear them up. Generally the 8 ounce package should equal about 1 1/2 Cups. Use your own judgement. I usually err on the side of too much cheese in that type of situation and gauge it based upon the thickness of my sauce. You can always thin (God Forbid) a bit with milk if you think it’s too thick.
- You can use any macaroni type noodle you prefer (elbow, shell, spiral) but I prefer the Cellentani because it combines the features of a slightly larger elbow with a spiral and then throws in some textured grooves so you get as much of the sauce grabbing to it as possible in each bite.
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Prepare 2 – 13 x 9 Pyrex baking dishes (I use the deepest ones I have), or 1 deep dish throw away baking pan, by buttering the sides and bottoms – then set aside while you prepare the ingredients.
- In a large stock pot, boil your pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and pour into largest mixing bowl you have. Set aside.
- In a large sauce pan over medium heat melt 4 TBLS butter. Whisk in the flour and cook about a minute while constantly whisking then begin stirring in the milk about a 1/2 cup at a time until it’s well combined.
- Stir in the spices and 1/4 Cup of the hot sauce. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheeses (not the cheese reserved for the top) until melted and smooth.
- In a small pan melt the remaining 4 TBLS butter and stir in the bread crumbs.
- Combine the remaining cheeses together.
- Pour the sauce over the macaroni and, using a large rubber spatula, stir until all of the pasta is well coated.
- Divide the pasta between the 2 prepared pans
- Sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining cheese mixture over the top of each and put the pans, uncovered into the oven.
- Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and beginning to brown on top.
- Slide the baking dishes out of the oven and set the oven temperature to broil
- Divide the panko mixture between the two pans and return to the oven
- Watch the pans carefully and remove from the oven as soon as your crumbs begin browning.
Make sure you’ve got a bottle of hot sauce out for anyone who wants to spice it up even more! Serve your macaroni and cheese with a salad as a dinner on it’s own, alongside burgers, steaks, or inside a great steak/brisket/tri-tip sandwich!
If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too: https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood