Thursday, March 24, 2011

Super Easy Mac N Cheese (no Boxes required!)

Harry can't get enough pasta.  He recently asked me to make him a 3 gallon pot full of mac n cheese for his birthday meal.  While I probably won't make quite that much (although I did suggest making that much and freezing small containers that would be all his for his birthday present...I saw the wheels turning in his brain!  "Mine, all mine. Mwah Ha Ha!!")

He is longing to go to Italy (he says for the architecture, but don't we all go to Italy for the pasta and pizza?) and I know he's going to feel like it's his homeland when he does finally experience the REAL pasta.

So when I asked my kids what I should make for dinner tonight, I wasn't at all shocked when he said Mac n Cheese. And thankfully, they don't really have much of a grid for the boxed variety. (Though my kids know a blue box won't enter our house, they have heard tales of the "olden days" when Kyle and I would eat a box of mac n cheese right out of the pan.)  They know that means real cheese, milk, and pasta combined in some way will create a magically oozing, cheesy pan of goodness.  And had I not purposefully set aside half of it in a different baking pan for the following day's lunches, they would have easily finished it off that night - everything in moderation is our motto.

It makes me sad to know many American kids only know the salty-sweet blue box variety (salty-sweet should only describe a good dessert, not an entree) and think the homemade variety is gross. I've heard it so many times from Moms who were trying to do a good thing for their kids and since their kids' palates have been blown on the fake, they just didn't get it.  It's not only the blue box either, the organic and gluten-free mac n cheese brands may be more wholesome on the outside, but they are still reliant on a lot of salt and sweeteners, though they may be the organic versions. 

So, give it one more shot.  I literally made this in 15 minutes.  Getting the water to boil and the optional baking steps take the longest.  You can make the stovetop version of the sauce while the pasta is cooking and the best part is you have all the ingredients if you have kept your List ingredients stocked. By the way this recipe is gluten-free if you use gluten free pasta.  Or make it for yourself or guests and include a variety of fun cheeses (blue, Gruyere, brie, whatever you have on hand), bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - carrots (not in the recipe, but I served alongside as a simple vegetable to distract them from the other awaiting pan)

CWYG Items - pasta, milk, cheese, cornstarch, mustard, butter, salt

Mac n Cheese
1 lb penne or macaroni
2 cups milk
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard (or 1 tsp mustard powder)
2 tsp kosher salt
4 cup shredded cheese, divided

Heat oven to 350 degrees if doing Baked version.

Cook the pasta according to package EXCEPT check it 3 minutes before it states.  The pasta should almost be crunchy in the middle if you're going to bake it.  If you're just going to do a stove-top version it needs to just barely be done.  The sauce will continue to cook it.

While the pasta is cooking, whisk the cornstarch into the milk and brink it to a boil.  After it thickens, add the butter, mustard, salt and half the cheese.  Stir in the cooked pasta.

Stovetop version:  Simply stir in the remaining cheese until melted and serve.

Baked version:  Transfer to a baking dish and top with the remaining cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

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