As my family knows, I am not much for recipes. It used to drive me crazy when I would get a recipe from my Baba only to discover a few years later that she doesn't actually use that recipe anymore because she had "improved" it. Now I understand. Recipes for me are "guidelines" that are meant to be toyed with and continually improved upon. Cooking is an ART. Many times my mother-in-law has asked me what I put in my chicken gravy and each time the answer is different, but the end result is always a fantastic gravy that my kids (and husband) could drink from a cup. Sashimi actually asked me for a mug when I made some last weekend, but that is another story.
So here is the Basic Macaroni & Cheese recipe, followed by the alterations I have done to it.
2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk - don't be fat conscious, use 2% or whole milk ;)
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Cook the pasta in boiling water until almost al dente. You want it to be a little firmer than normal because you are going to be cooking it further in the oven.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the chopped onion. Fry the onions on med-low heat to really soften them up and carmelize them a bit, it takes about 10 minutes. Add flour to the onions and butter - this is your roux. Add the milk and whisk over medium heat until it boils and thickens. Remove from heat. Add 2 cups of the cheese, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour over the macaroni and mix well. Pour into a greased oven-proof baking dish (a 9X13 works) and top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake at 350˚F for 20 minutes.
What I have done to make it KILLER:
- Add paprika, ground mustard powder, parsley and granulated garlic to the white sauce (before adding cheese). I really don't measure.
- I may use more cheese than the recipe asks for. Again, I go by looking. Considering how much I like cheese, I'd say that's a safe bet.
- If your kids are fussy over onions, you can put them in the blender or magic bullet to make them into a purée before frying them. It will affect the frying time, but then you keep the onion flavour without having your kids turn their noses up at the sight of something NOT macaroni-like on their plate.
- If you really don't want to use actual onion in the sauce, you can add onion powder when you play around with the spices that I mentioned above.
- Whole wheat pasta is healthier, but I have found that for this dish, my kids will gobble up white pasta over whole wheat. They eat WW spaghetti all the time, but I think the WW is too different from classic Kraft Dinner, and they are not so willing to eat it.
- If you want to sneak some veggies into your kids' bellies, add half of a roasted butternut squash to the cheese sauce just before you season with salt and pepper. Use a hand-blender to blend the sauce. The squash goes really well with the sauce and is completely undetectable by kids. Trust me, I've done it and my kids are none the wiser.
- Want a different taste? Fry the onion with diced BACON and reserve 4 tbsp of bacon drippings to mix with your flour instead of butter. You can top it with chives before you pop it into the oven. Isn't everything better with bacon?