Also, I should mention, I've learned some important lessons along this continuing adventure, most notably: do not use pre-shredded cheese. It'll just end in disgust and disappointment.
This macaroni and cheese recipe differs from others in that it uses a combination of milk and chicken--or vegetable--stock; and has both colby jack and cheddar cheeses. Also, I love that the recipe is an America's Test Kitchen original, so there is a rhyme and reason for each of the ingredients and steps. Can you imagine what its like to work at a place where your sole responsibly is to perfect recipes? AH!
The addition of the broth to the béchamel sauce, along with the use of colby jack cheese helps to eliminate the typical separation and graininess that occurs in other baked macaroni and cheese recipes. The broth may make for a thinner sauce initially, but it thickens up as the pasta finishes cooking in the oven, resulting in a very cheesy, delicious, and less grainy dish. There was still some separation, but I'll blame that on the fact that I used the cheese sauce four days after making, rather than the recommended two.
But, really, it was so yummy! This may be my favorite so far...and colby jack isn't a cheese I've ever paid attention to!
As hinted at above, this recipe can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in the fridge until you are ready to bake it, which is perfect for parties and...vacations! Make sure to check back later this week for a post on how I make meal planning for vacations cheaper, easier, and (dare I say it?) fun!
Macaroni & Cheese (Make-Ahead)
Found on Pink Parsley, Slightly Adapted from Cooking Illustrated
1 pound pasta of choice
6 tablespoons salted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons flour
3 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%)
2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound colby jack cheese, shredded
8 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
Ground black pepper and salt, to taste
Crumb topping of choice (I used a combination of Italian bread crumbs & cheddar/parmesan cheeses)
- If serving immediately after making, preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish (or 2 8x8 baking dishes). Bring salted water to boil in a large pot and cook pasta until pasta just begins to soften, not quite al dente (~5 minutes). Remove from stove and drain water.
- Dry the large pot, and place over medium heat. Add butter; and when melted, stir in garlic, mustard, and cayenne. Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until flagrant. Add in flour; stirring and cooking until golden (~1-2 minutes).
- Slowing add in milk and chicken broth, constantly whisking and bringing it to a simmer. When bubbles begin to form at surface and mixture begins to thicken some, remove from heat. (Josie said this would take ~15, but it felt like 30 minutes to me!). Gradually add in cheeses, stirring until melted, and season with salt and pepper.
- Add pasta to pot and stir until pasta clumps are broken up and the cheese sauce is well-distributed. Pour into prepared dish and top with bread crumbs. Bake until macaroni and cheese bubbles and the top is crisp, about 25 to 30 minutes.
To make ahead --
- Method One: Pour macaroni and cheese mixture into baking dish, cover tightly with tin foil, and keep in fridge for up to 2 days. Bake at 400 degrees until heated thoroughly and bubbly (~40-45 minutes).
- Method Two: Do not cook pasta. Make sauce as directed above and store in an air-tight container in fridge. When ready to use, make pasta according to directions above and reheat sauce on stove, adding more milk if necessary. Combine pasta and cheese sauce; bake at 400 degrees until bubbly and crisp.