This is one of those meals that I have made over and over again- I tried countless recipes. Onion, shallot, garlic, mustard powder; brown butter, sage, extra salt, no salt, white pepper.... It was never creamy enough, never cheesey enough, just not what I wanted.
Here's the thing. I love Kraft macaroni and cheese. I really do. That said, I also hate it! Processed food out of a box? So not what I'm about. But I crave that simple, powdered cheese flavor. I can accept it. I'm sure there are others like me out there.
What's a girl to do? Simplify it. Macaroni and cheese, in it's creamiest incarnation. Macaroni noodles, a roux with milk, and three kinds of cheese. That's it. You can even pick the cheeses you like. When I'm craving mac- this satisfies it every time. With the added bonus of being made from scratch, with no preservatives, mysterious aluminum packets, or powders.
The other benefit of this type of mac- you can reheat it without loss of quality. Just add a little cream to the saucepan and heat it gently, and it will be just as creamy as it was the first time. I've never seen Kraft do that.
Comfort food at it's simplest.
Here's how it's done:
Cook the pasta of your choice to al dente. I love cavatappi for this but all I had in the house was regular elbows.
Once the pasta is cooked and set aside, start making the sauce. Have the cheese grated and ready, and the cream cheese already chopped. Yes, I said cream cheese.
Once you have everything mesaured out and your mise en place is complete, start making the sauce. This sauce is roux-based, which means an emulsified starch. Basically, you melt fat and then add a starch to it. I use butter and flour here. Melt the butter, then whisk in the flour.
Cook and whisk constantly for about five minutes- the butter and flour should make excellent friends and turn a light golden brown color. The mixture will bubble and become a bit liquidy- this is normal.
Once you get your roux cooked, pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly. This step is key- if you don't whisk enough, or add your liquid too quickly, the sauce can be clumpy. Add the liquid in a constant, steady stream, whisking all the time.
Cook the sauce, still over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream and coats the back of a spoon. If you've never done the spoon test- draw a line with your finger down the back of a spoon you've dipped in the sauce. If the line runs back together, keep cooking. As soon as the line sets up, turn off the heat.
Turn off the heat. Whisk a 1/2 cup or so into a small bowl with your cream cheese (to prevent clumps of cream cheese in your sauce) and pour the mixture back into the sauce pan. Drop in the shredded cheese and stir until everything is completely melted and incorporated.
Once the sauce is done, add the noodles to the sauce pan and toss to coat.
Season the pasta to taste with salt and pepper. Serve. And there you have it! Perfectly creamy homemade mac and cheese.