Who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese? Besides the lactose intolerant, of course. And if you don’t like mac ‘n cheese because you don’t like cheese, then I have nothing more to say to you.

Up until this birthday dinner, my mac ‘n cheese was always of the Kraft variety. I remember due to a NMO exacerbation several years ago, I was on corticosteroids whose main side effects on me are insomnia and increased appetite. Often accompanying these appetite changes were strange cravings, and during this particular round of steroids, I ate at least one serving of Easy Mac every day. I even had to go to Costco and buy in bulk.

But thank heavens, my taste buds have since sophisticated, and I tried making good ol’ mac ‘n cheese from scratch this time. The idea came to me when I was watching this “Good Eats” episode on melted cheese, and Alton Brown baked some mac ‘n cheese. And then when I went online to search for the recipe and saw it’s enthusiastic reviews, I was sold.

I tweaked the recipe to suit my own taste and liking, and it was definitely a hit. The panco bread crumbs made all the difference. Overwhelmed by the exoticism? Let’s break it down.

Panco is simply Japanese for “bread crumbs.” The difference between this variety and the American kind is that panco is flaky rather than crummy–uh, I mean crumby (sorry, another bad joke). This means there is more surface area so to make a long story short, your foods will turn out crispier, crunchier, yet lighter. Even after microwaving the leftovers, the panco still added a delightful crunch to the mac ‘n cheese.

Another differentiating factor is the sharp cheddar. None of that bland, watery mild cheddar here. We like a hearty, pungent cheddar. I cheated and opted for the kind that come already shredded in a bag, but if you’re looking to build up forearm muscles, try buying a block of sharp cheddar (either white or yellow or both) and grating it yourself. We received this sweet mandolin slicer as a wedding gift, and it makes cheese grating easy. And remember that if the Blind can Cook it, you can too.

Recipe: Easy but Fancy Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Notes: Adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe.

Ingredients

  1. 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  2. 4.5 tbsp AP flour
  3. 1.5 tbsp ground mustard
  4. 3 c milk
  5. 1/2 onion, diced
  6. 1 bay leaf
  7. 3/4 tsp ground paprika
  8. 1 egg, beaten
  9. 4 c grated sharp cheddar, divided (16 ozs)
  10. 1 (12 ozs) pkg elbow macaroni, soaked in water for 30m
  11. 1 (3.5 ozs) pkg panko, tossed with 3 tbsp melted butter

Instructions

  1. Make cheese sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and whisk in flour and mustard. Stir in milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika; cook until thickened, stirring frequently, approx 10m. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Temper in egg and add 3 c cheddar; season with salt & pepper.
  2. Bake mac ’n cheese: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Fold macaroni in to cheese sauce. Transfer to greased 2-qt baking dish and top with remaining 1 c cheese and panko. Bake until bubbly, approx 35m.
  3. Let rest 10m before serving.

Active time: 25m
Total time: 1h 10m
Yields: 2 qts (4 to 6 servings)

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2 Discussion to this post

  1. dark mark says:

    the top definitely needs to be a little burnt (along with the sides) to be perfect for me. my coworker's mom who makes some SERIOUS soul food (mac, collared greens, fried chicken, ox tails) once gave me a full tray of mac&cheese (12×10?) which i easily consumed over the course of (4) days. it is THE ultimate comfort food.

    Will try your recipe once i build up my metabolism a bit more 🙂

  2. Julie says:

    Alton Brown's mac 'n cheese is my favorite recipe for mac 'n cheese! Love it 🙂

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