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Mac & Cheese

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Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1280
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Sat Dec 26, 2015 11:08 pm    Post subject: Mac & Cheese Reply with quote

Homemade mac&cheese is really not a difficult dish, and quite frankly only takes 5-8 minutes more prep time than emptying the box type . . . but it is seriously better tasting - and gives you a lot more control.
it's not rocket cooking.... once you've done it 2-3 times, you won't need a recipe.

The quantities: this will make a main dish for two; as a side you'll have some leftovers - which is not a bad thing because it re-heats well.

100 grams / 3.5 ounces by weight of elbow macaroni - roughly one 8 fl ounce cup
note: this is Barilla #41; other elbows may be thicker or shaped differently which may have a different volume/qty of elbows.
you'll need about 1.5 - 2 (355-475 ml) cups of liquid - milk, cream or a combination of both.

preheat oven to 220C/425F; rack in middle.

heat the water, salt when boiling, cook to al dente per package directions.

while the water is heating, in a heavy bottom pot, make a roux:
melt 3 tablespoons butter
when melted, add 3 tablespoons AP flour
use a whisk to incorporate and ensure no lumps.
cook this 'white sauce' about 5 minutes to avoid a "raw flour" taste; if it turns slightly brown/blonde that is not a problem.

roux at the bubble

whisk in the seasonings - see notes of "Seasonings" below
my "standard" is 1 tablespoon of dry mustard plus a heavy pinch of cayenne pepper
(see other options below)

whisk in about 4 fl ounces/ 120 ml cold milk or cream - the whisking is essential to ensure no lumps. cook over medium heat; the roux will thicken.

as the roux starts to thicken, add (a total of) 170 grams / 6 ounces of cheese, cut into strips/thin slices for ease / speed of melting. it's easier to add about half the cheese - adjusting the consistency with milk to keep it fluid - then add the remainder after the first batch has (mostly) melted.

once the cheese has been added, it is required to stir near continuously - and add small amounts of milk to maintain the consistency. if the sauce becomes too thick and is not stirred, it will likely burn.

the only tricky part to homemade is heating the cheesey sauce hot enough to ensure all the cheese is melted smoothly without _over_ heating it - causing the sauce to break.

this pix shows the cheese melted in, but you can see it's still a bit lumpy.

using medium to medium high heat, bring the cheese sauce to a bubbling around the edges state - stir constantly. adjust the thickness / consistency with milk - once the thickness is stable, turn off the heat but continue to stir for a minute or two to ensure the hot pot does not over cook the cheese sauce.

a bit more heat and it smooths out.

the other decision about the sauce is how "thick" you like it. we prefer it on the thin side - not runny-on-the-plate, but not remotely "glue-like." add milk/cream/water as needed to get the consistency you prefer. it typically thickens up some as it bakes - and if you're making a lot and plan on leftovers, the sauce will definitely thicken as it cools and stores refrigerated; it does not return to the original consistency when re-heated. this is important if the intent is to refrigerate and serve later (party, etc.) - in that event I recommend you make the sauce thinner to compensate.

see notes on "Cheese" below.
by now the elbow pasta should be done - drain, shake out any excess moisture, dump into cheese sauce and mix. transfer mixture to baking/casserole dish - into 425'F/220'C oven for 20-30 minutes - depending on topping and desired crust.

mac&cheese lends itself to a lot of variations.
the dry mustard + cayenne is my 'standard'
- an add of finely diced scallion/shallot/onion/celery works - add as butter melts and cook out any free water before adding the flour lest ye' clump&seize the roux.
- 1 tablespoon fresh horse radish + 1-2 tablespoon Dijon mustard is a good sub for the dry mustard/cayenne
- for the brave, anchovy paste (0.5 tablespoon / 7.5 ml) + cayenne works - but best as a side dish. the anchovy leaves 'em asking "what was the masked flavor?" as a main dish it persists too long.

Notes on the Cheese
Cheddar is probably the most used variety. Note that long-aged cheddars tend to be drier and a bit more difficult to melt smoothly. For a long time I used a Giant store brand - Colby Longhorn - then they changed something and it no longer makes a smooth sauce - it's grainy and gritty. So if a particular cheese does not product good results, try a different one! Boars' Head Wisconsin style works well, if you need a place to start.

and you can use a combination of cheeses - Fontinella, a soft Gouda, Muenster and Butterkaese are good candidates. typically I limit the cheese to just two varieties - for a while I was doing three and four cheese mixes - but frankly it really didn't bring a lot to the party.

Last edited by Dilbert on Mon Jan 24, 2022 5:23 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Joined: 23 Sep 2010
Posts: 131

PostPosted: Wed Aug 10, 2016 2:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Muchos Gracious Dilbert!

I love mac and cheese buddy Smile
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Jim Cooley

Joined: 09 Oct 2008
Posts: 377
Location: Seattle

PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2016 4:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Make your roux ahead of time and use cake flour.
Pour it into ice cube trays.

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