Some food, some drink.
Weeknight Easy: One-Pot Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese (that’s worth eating).
One pot, stove top macaroni and cheese. If you've got kids, I reckon you're all too familiar with this [side]dish. You might even be to the point where you're content to roll with the stuff in the blue box; or if you have a coupon and you're feeling like some serious "haute cuisine", maybe you're buying that mix with the "cheese" sauce in the pouch. ;-p
But hey, I'm not here to judge; I'm here to help. Making mac and cheese on the stove from scratch is downright simple, but like most good comfort food, easy doesn't mean lazy. By paying attention to weights and measures and being mindful of ingredients, the next bowl of mac and cheese you whip up for your kids might actually be one you don't mind eating yourself.
Stove top macaroni and cheese done right is the form of comfort food. Granted, nothing here is rocket surgery; but I gotta tell ya, I really think that this everyday dish doesn't get its propers because of its simplicity. Too often, this basic sauced pasta gets pigeonholed with what comes boxed with the "magic orange mystery powder," as neither require any time in a casserole dish at 350F. Hogwash, I say. Mac and cheese made on the range can be every bit as tasty, and some might say even better than baked macaroni and cheese; and the only thing difficult about it is getting out of that lazy cook mindset. Why is it that when people fix the baked variant of cheese and elbows that they spend the extra time to measure, but are content to just dump it into the pot and pray when it comes to a one-pot method? If you can be bothered to pay attention to what you're doing, and give the same kind of love to the stove as what's given to the oven, I bet you'll too find that there is beauty in simplicity.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Fill a 4 quart pot three-quarters full of water and bring to a boil. Add the Tbsp of salt, return to a boil and add the macaroni. Boil over high heat for 6 minutes or until pasta is al-dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and return the empty pot to the burner with the heat off. To the pot, add buttermilk, milk, Velveeta, Colby-Jack, onion powder, and white pepper and top with the drained macaroni (no stirring yet). Lid up and let rest for 5 minutes before stirring to integrate. Taste to see if the additional salt is needed, and adjust consistency with more milk if necessary. Serve immediately.
- This needs to be addressed first: If hamburger snobs are cool with American cheese, then there's no reason why your pasta can't be friends with Velveeta. Yeah, by itself it's too salty and doesn't taste like any sort of actual cheese; but it's more than happy to play second fiddle to the real deal and you still get the bonus of those ooey-gooey physical properties of said pasteurized processed as well. Sure, you can take the time to manufacture your own cheese-food, and I've toyed with that idea myself; but I can't seem to justify the practicality from an economic sense (financially, temporally, or otherwise).
- Hey, notice something about this recipe? It relies on weight to get the proportions right. You cheapskates without a scale just need to pony up (you don't really trust the graduations on the side of the Velveeta wrapper do you?).
- You can use any sort of grated cheese you want, but I'm going to recommend you grate it fresh (We've talked about this before when making bean dip). Just know that the moisture content of the cheese is going to affect the finished texture. Colby is a good choice if you like it creamier. Want something more akin to the texture of the baked stuff? Try a mild Cheddar. The choices are limitless, but be prepared to add a bit more milk for any aged, low-moisture cheese such as sharp Cheddar or Swiss.
- Buttermilk? Yeah, buttermilk. I've tried everything from half and half to brown ale, and only buttermilk adds just enough acidic tang to make it interesting and yet won't curdle the rest of the dairy in the process.
- I know there's plenty of sodium in the pasteurized process cheese-like stuff, but if you don't salt the noodles while they're cooking, it'll all be for naught. If you can make a mean pasta salad, then you already know what I'm talking about.
- The onion powder and white pepper are that "what's missing" from most mac and cheese. However, you can't go crazy with either of these. If you want a bit more kick, consider cayenne instead of more pepper, as many a meal have been ruined from too much white pepper.
- Take a cue from your pork roast, and make sure to let your macs rest a bit. Add the cheese sauce ingredients to the pot and let the drained pasta sit for a bit in the covered pot. This lets the sauce melt/meld together and eliminates a lot of unnecessary stirring that could bruise your noodle (twss).
Whadaya want me to say here? Arguments regarding baked vs. not aside, this is quintessential mac and cheese. Hell, for that matter, spoon this stuff into a greased baking dish and top with buttered breadcrumbs and/or French fried onions for a little oven time and tell me what you think. I've always considered that the notion of "grown-up" mac and cheese to be a bit absurd. You wanna call it a variation on a theme? That's fine; but no one ever talks about "grown-up pizza" or "grown-up chocolate chip cookies;" so to apply that label to any other comfort food is kind of a moot point.
Let's set aside semantics here, and focus on what's important: We've got all the melty goodness that people like in a macaroni and cheese coupled with a richer (not saltier) taste that has it's roots in all that fresh-grated cheese that we used to temper our judicious use of packaged food. My kids have no problem eating this stuff when it hits the table, and I feel better knowing that what has become a preference over boxed product in this house has set the tone for their tastes in such things as they get older; and in my opinion, that's what real "grown-up" food is all about.