My oldest daughter started kindergarten today, hurling me full-time into the world of homework, appropriate school dress, and chauffeuring. It also means the end of a leisurely daily lunch at home. To this point in time we’ve had the luxury of eating lunch as a family. It’s been nice, heating stacks of leftovers or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven. And while those of us left at home will still do that, my daughter will miss out some, getting more bologna and peanut butter than she may like. So yesterday, as our last lunch of the summer together, we did it right with one of her favorites: macaroni and cheese.
Macaroni and cheese! That so very American dish conjurs up dreams of tubes of pasta wrapped in magnificent cheese sauce… as we empty a blue box into a pot of boiling water, stir in the neon orange magic powder, cut up some hot dogs, and call it a meal in an effort to stop the war cry of the starving natives. Sigh.
Homemade macaroni and cheese can be so good, and while not that difficult to make, it takes up so much time and uses so much milk and so many dishes and then you pray that it doesn’t turn out dry and grainy. No wonder most of us default to the 50-cent (or 30-cent, if you’re lucky), 12-minute meal-in-a-box. But what happens when the grocer is out of the 30-cent box and you refuse to pay 89 cents? What happens when it’s lunchtime and macaroni and cheese sounds good?
Since I had refused to pay 89 cents… Enter America’s Test Kitchen (are you shocked?) and the Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese recipe. After winning the “Dish It Your Way” Blogger Week 7 Challenge — Burger edition , my daughter wanted me to try the “Dish It Your Way” Blogger Week 9 Challenge — Macaroni & Cheese. Okay, then. I don’t have to win, but it’s fun to write about food. It was also my way to get her to try homemade mac ‘n’ cheese again, since the last time she turned her nose up at it.
I’d say it was a rousing success. It turned out a little soupier than I’d normally like, so next time I may cook some more pasta to add in. But my girls ate it — the younger two gobbled it down — and my husband ate three helpings (he’s the one who wasn’t a big fan of the baked stuff I made twice nor does he scarf down the boxed stuff — and it’s not because he’s saving some for the kids).
The recipe is below. Now, here’s what I like about this recipe. Granted, it’s not as easy as the convenient boxed stuff — nor is it as cheap, running about $5 to make a batch — but it’s scrumptious. It uses a lot of things you probably already have lurking around your pantry, like noodles and evaporated milk and cheese. (I like convenient.) It’s also easy to doctor up and make your own. Use different cheese. Add some broccoli. Try a pasta other than macaroni. The stuff you see pictured, well, I discovered I only had a half cup of cheddar, so that went in with some mozzarella and swiss to make up the 3 cups. I added a teaspoon of garlic powder to the egg mixture. Then at the end, I stirred in a quarter pound of cooked bacon. Think of it as grown-up hot dogs. 🙂 I like the bread crumbs, but they are considered optional, especially if you’re short on time. They suggest crumbled crackers (like saltines). Or you could simply crush some croutons. Unless you’re having the stars of ATK over for lunch, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Then again, why not? You might just impress them with your creativity. 🙂
Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Plan for roughly 20 minutes — maybe 25 — to get this to the table.
- 3 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- table salt
Macaroni and Cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk
- 2 tsp. table salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. dry mustard, dissolved in 1 tsp. water
- 1/4 tsp. hot sauce
- 8 oz. elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 12 oz. sharp cheddar, American, or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
- FOR THE BREAD CRUMBS: Pulse the bread in a food processor until coarsely ground, 10 to 15 pulses. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, tossing to coat with the butter, until the crumbs just begin to color, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste; set aside.
- FOR THE MACARONI AND CHEESE: Mix the eggs, 1 cup of the evaporated milk, 1/2 tsp. of the salt, pepper, mustard mixture, and hot sauce in a small bowl; set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the remaining 1-1/2 tsp. salt and the macaroni; cook until almost tender but still a little firm to the bite. Drain and return to the pan over low heat. Add the butter; toss to melt.
- Pour the egg mixture over the buttered noodles along with three-quarters of the cheese; stir until thoroughly combined and the cheese starts to melt. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the remaining cheese, stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, topped with the toasted bread crumbs.