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winesonoma

Best Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

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I can successfully make a white sauce just by cooking a roux and adding milk. However, in my early days of cooking I had the problems you mention, and I learned I fail-proof trick for making white sauce. I now continue to use this method, for the sake of convenience.

I make roux in large batches and freeze in ice cube trays (once hardened, I take the cubes out of the tray and put in ziplock bag). Heat milk. Drop in roux cube (or two depending on quantity of milk). Stir. The milk will absorb the roux as it melts, which will be slow enough that you will never get lumps.

Another tip is that you should make your white sauce pretty thin, make sure that there is a generous sauce to pasta ratio, and undercook your pasta. The pasta will absorb some of the moisture during the baking process, and the sauce will thicken. If you make the sauce too thick to begin with, the sauce will be more likely to get grainy when it bakes.

I don't mix much, if any cheese into the white sauce. I just mix the pasta and white sauce together, and then put the grated cheese in "raw." I mix the mixture very thoroughly, and let it sit for a couple of minutes before distributing it into baking dishes. This process ensures that grated cheese is distributed into the crevices of the pasta. I've found that not melting the cheese directly into the sauce deals with the problem of the cheese causing the sauce to split, and also makes the final dish simultaneously gooey and creamy.

I love mac and cheese too! Good luck.


Edited by Khadija (log)

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Roux cubes! Wow, that's a really interesting idea. I'll need to try that sometime.


...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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Roux cubes!  Wow, that's a really interesting idea.  I'll need to try that sometime.

I love the idea of frozen roux cubes, but I don't think my roux is coming out right in the first place.

Ah well, a great excuse to keep trying!


"Vegetables aren't food. Vegetables are what food eats."

--

food.craft.life.

The Lunch Crunch - Our daily struggle to avoid boring lunches

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Pansophia,

From a flavor perspective, it helps to cook the roux to toast the flour a bit, but as long as the flour is well mixed with the butter, even if you don't toast it much, the texture of the sauce shouldn't be compromised. Grainy cheese sauce is not a result of a poorly made roux, it's almost always a sign of curdling.

Here are some traditional ways to help prevent curdling:

1. Once it's fully thickened simmer your bechamel for 5 to 10 minutes. Too long and the milk starts getting a cooked taste, but too short and the starch particles don't absorb enough liquid/swell.

2. Before adding the cheese, whisk the bechamel aggressively. Whisking helps break down the swollen starch particles, which, in turn, helps to create both a smoother and a more stable sauce.

3. Add the shredded cheese off the heat The residual heat of the bechamel should be sufficient to slowly melt the cheese. If additional heat is necessary, put the sauce back on very low heat, very briefly. Never let your sauce come anywhere near a boil.

4. Additional fat - fat (in the form of whole milk/cream) is a powerful stabilizer. Be careful with the cream, though- too much and it starts to mask the taste of the cheese. 2 parts milk to 1 part cream is about as high as you want to go.

5. Use fresh milk - old milk curdles more easily than fresh milk.

6. Use younger, less sharp less aged cheeses - acid curdles milk. Older cheeses have a higher acid content. Until you've mastered stable cheese sauces, stick to mild cheddar and colby.

7. Use sealed cheese - opened cheese has a tendency to dry out and be harder to melt

8. Watch the salt content of your cheeses - salt can be a destabilizing factor. Blue cheese is especially salty.

9. Add a small amount of American cheese - it contains chemicals that prevent it from curdling. Kraft Deli Deluxe is better than most.

Some less traditional ways of preventing curdling involve:

10. Hydrocolloid gums - xanthan, guar (these are especially useful for providing stability but not masking flavor like starch does). If you use too much the sauce can get slimy, but in small amounts they work beautifully.

11. Mustard - mustard contains emulsifiers which help stabilize sauce, but... I don't think it brings that much stabilization to the table nor is the taste favored by everyone. I'm not a big fan.

12. Milk proteins - dried milk/whey is sometimes used commercially in cheese sauces, but, like mustard, I'm not a big fan of the taste.

For an unbaked mac & cheese, following tips 1-9 will pretty much guarantee you a smooth, uncurdled sauce. Baking exposes cheese sauce to pretty extreme temps and pushes the stabilization envelope. The starch from the unrinsed pasta helps a bit, but not much. For a guaranteed not to curdle, baked mac & cheese, I'd incorporate a gum (or two) into the mix. Whole Foods carries xanthan.

Can you ignore all these recommendations and still make an uncurdled cheese sauce? Of course. Each of these tips, though, improves your odds. Curdled cheese sauces are the worst. Anything you can do to help prevent curdling is well worth the effort, imo.

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Thank you so much for the tips! I can't wait to try again.

I'm trying so hard to move forward in the kitchen but sometimes it's the simple things that hold me back the most. (But hey, it wasn't that many years ago I had to call my mom to ask what a saucepan was!)


"Vegetables aren't food. Vegetables are what food eats."

--

food.craft.life.

The Lunch Crunch - Our daily struggle to avoid boring lunches

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My favorite mac&cheese comes from an old TV episode by Pierre Franey (of all people) who made it with Smithfield ham, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, three kinds of cheddar, and cream (of course!). I make it once or twice a year, and it is wonderful. I wish I could find the original recipe, but until then I do what I remember from the show.

Ray

Well, I can tell you where it's NOT; "Pierre Franey's Cooking In France". I have the book and had to look thru it for you; sorry, but the recipe isn't there. :sad:

Thanks for looking, judiu. I have that book plus several others by Pierre, all of which don't have the recipe. I'm thinking that it may have originated as a recipe in the NYT when he wrote for them, then toggled over to the TV show. Maybe there's a compilation of those somewhere.

Just checked my NYT Cookbook, but it's all Craig Claiborne's recipes. It did, however suggest another possible reference; Cooking With Craig Claiborne & Pierre Franey. Check your local library, maybe?

I checked my copy of the book and there is no reference to any dish that remotely resembles Mac and Cheese. Has anyone checked "60 Minute Gourmet"?


Edited by Marya (log)

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greetings all.

Ive read through the famous mac and cheese thread and would like to get some pointers if i can. i will be making mac and cheese for a party and since im busy as heck at work, i wont have time to experiment before hand. from reading through the thread, it seems that the alton brown one is the best bet. what brand do you all suggest?

here are the ingredients and questions:

1/2 pound elbow macaroni

* ive read brillo is best? cook slightly undercooked right?

3 tablespoons butter

* salted not salted?

1 tablespoon powdered mustard

* regular mustard ok? where is this powdered stuff found in the grocery store?

3 cups milk

* half and half or heavy creame? or stick to regular milk?

12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

* should i throw in montery jack somewhere in the mix? or stick to sharp?

the style of mac and cheese im shooting for is something a bbq joint or fried chicken place would serve.

thanks for any help!

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With no offense intended, you're overthinking this one a bit. I've made mac n cheese when I was a kid and we were not high up the income scale with storebrand pasta, margarine, whatever milk was in the fridge and whatever cheese we happened to have in the house and it was always good. If you're using butter and good cheese it will be even better. Salted or unsalted butter won't matter, just compensate for the salt when seasoning. If you have half and half or cream on hand and want to use it, go ahead. I wouldn't go buy it special for mac n cheese though, milk works fine... there's already plenty o' fat from the butter and cheese so you really won't miss the difference cream instead of milk will make. Dry mustard is with the spices. Personally, as much as I hate to admit it, I think a blend of cheddar and (blush) proceesed ("American" or velveeta) cheese makes good mac n cheese and comes closest to what you find in the type of places you mentioned.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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How many servings do you anticipate? Anything over 30 and those big ol cans of cheese sauce start to look mighty tempting from Sam's Club.


"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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hi, thanks for the suggestions. i just like to make things really tasty for my guests. if it means to spend a little more on on better ingredients sure why not. servings maybe around 10-15, so it will be small.

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if it means to spend a little more on on better ingredients sure why not.

I agree with that 100%. The thing is, there's spending more on ingredients because they make something better and spending more on ingredients just because the cost more. There are probably a few palates out there that can tell you which batch of mac n cheese used cream and which used milk but I'm willing to bet if you put a pan of each on the table at pretty much any party/dinner nobody is going to discern that the one with cream is better. I'd almost promise you they won't know if used a more or less expensive brand of dried pasta and they definitely won't know (in this context) if you used salted or unsalted butter. If you don't compensate for the salt when seasoning (if the recipe calls for unsalted butter and a specific amount of salt and you use salted butter obviously you'd have to use less salt... but we all salt to taste anyway right?) then they may find it too salty but they won't know it's because you used salted butter. They'll just think you oversalted it. As for the cheese, that's the flavor-star in mac n cheese and the place I'd spend my "splurge money" if I was going for fancy. There aren't many (if any) cheeses that won't work, it comes down to what you like and what you want to spend.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Personally, as much as I hate to admit it, I think a blend of cheddar and (blush) processed ("American" or velveeta) cheese makes good mac n cheese and comes closest to what you find in the type of places you mentioned.

And loathe as some people might be to believe or accept it.... some of the independent soul food / 'cu joint mac 'n cheese gets its color and distinct cheese tang by using the cheese powder packets from commercial boxed mac 'n cheese products and mixing it right in with the milk. That powder along with pre-grated sharp cheddar - results in a mac 'n cheese that most people really like - even if they detest Kraft style boxed mac 'n cheese.

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Personally, as much as I hate to admit it, I think a blend of cheddar and (blush) processed ("American" or velveeta) cheese makes good mac n cheese and comes closest to what you find in the type of places you mentioned.

And loathe as some people might be to believe or accept it.... some of the independent soul food / 'cu joint mac 'n cheese gets its color and distinct cheese tang by using the cheese powder packets from commercial boxed mac 'n cheese products and mixing it right in with the milk. That powder along with pre-grated sharp cheddar - results in a mac 'n cheese that most people really like - even if they detest Kraft style boxed mac 'n cheese.

I love Mac and Cheese with a little bit of feta/gorgonzola/blue cheese added in!

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I think it's important to consider making two pans. One with bacon and sweated diced onions and the other plain.


"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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so the alton brown recipe would be safest recipe to follow right?

sundaysous, i like the idea of bacon. when do you add it? bake the bacon first so its crispy and sprinkle on top, or do you just cut up the raw bacon and add it in with the cheese and bake in oven?


Edited by maui420 (log)

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To get that particular profile you are targeting, make sure your cheese isnt too sharp.

Have fun.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I like to do my mac and cheese the same as I do my grilled cheese sandwiches... a whole whack of mild cheddar to get all the texture and gooeyness that you expect in mac and cheese and some of the oldest, sharpest vintage cheddar you can find to give the wonderful cheesey flavour.

Hmmm, I think I have decided what's for dinner tonight!!!

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so the alton brown recipe would be safest recipe to follow right?

sundaysous, i like the idea of bacon. when do you add it? bake the bacon first so its crispy and sprinkle on top, or do you just cut up the raw bacon and add it in with the cheese and bake in microwave?

Woah.... Hold on there, pardner! There are some things you can make in a microwave, but you cannot bake in a plain old microwave oven. Please say that you wrote that by mistake? Or if not, please rethink how you're cooking your mac and cheese! How else will you get those lovely browned bits on top, if not in a regular oven?

As for the bacon, I've never had it on mac and cheese but it definitely sounds interesting! For myself, I think I'd prefer to cook it crisp first, then crumble it on top, or stir it into my serving. Putting raw bacon in the mac and cheese would not allow the bacon to cook crispy, plus there may be pools of bacon fat in the mac and cheese. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your preference. Anyway, bacon or not, please bake that m&c in a regular oven! :wink:


"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)

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so the alton brown recipe would be safest recipe to follow right?

sundaysous, i like the idea of bacon. when do you add it? bake the bacon first so its crispy and sprinkle on top, or do you just cut up the raw bacon and add it in with the cheese and bake in microwave?

Hmmn bacon can be tricky in this situation. I usually bake it crisp. If you are not serving kitchen to table I wouldn't incorporate with pasta and sauce as the bacon will absorb liquid over time.

Come to think of it I have served soggy bacon like this more than once. I think I would sprinkle over top as it comes out of the oven.


"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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Yikes, JanMcBaker makes a good point. I think even reheating this in a microwave would invite disaster. If your going off site and can't grab a 350 degree oven for 1/2 an hour and trust me you probably won't you probably want to add bacon on top after you reheat it, in an oven.

I would think as soon as it comes out of your oven, if it has to travel cover with plastic wrap. Remove plastic wrap before reheating.

About the powdered mustard, you'll find it in the spice department of your grocer. Probably called ground mustard.

As far as the milk I would go with milk. Only because you don't have time to experiment. Knowing Alton he would probably use 1/2 and 1/2 but why risc it first time out. Actually he would probably use butter milk and add heavy cream.

*I'm slowly realizing that I may just be a little obsessed with Alton Brown. Lol little obcessed...*


"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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opps! i meant back in the baking oven. thanks for the catch.

so the alton brown recipe would be safest recipe to follow right?

sundaysous, i like the idea of bacon. when do you add it? bake the bacon first so its crispy and sprinkle on top, or do you just cut up the raw bacon and add it in with the cheese and bake in microwave?

Woah.... Hold on there, pardner! There are some things you can make in a microwave, but you cannot bake in a plain old microwave oven. Please say that you wrote that by mistake? Or if not, please rethink how you're cooking your mac and cheese! How else will you get those lovely browned bits on top, if not in a regular oven?

As for the bacon, I've never had it on mac and cheese but it definitely sounds interesting! For myself, I think I'd prefer to cook it crisp first, then crumble it on top, or stir it into my serving. Putting raw bacon in the mac and cheese would not allow the bacon to cook crispy, plus there may be pools of bacon fat in the mac and cheese. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your preference. Anyway, bacon or not, please bake that m&c in a regular oven! :wink:

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just reporting back....want to give alton browns recipe a big thumbs up. i did not include the onions and bacon since some folks at the party were non meat eaters and a few dont like onions.

to make the recipe better, i should of added a bit more salt but was afraid i might just over do it. other than that, everyone was real happy.

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Dear readers, I mince the onions fine, fine, fine and cook them in the butter for the sauce. They virtually melt, and add nothing but a subtle flavor to the whole. :rolleyes: HTH!


"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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My favorite mac&cheese comes from an old TV episode by Pierre Franey (of all people) who made it with Smithfield ham, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, three kinds of cheddar, and cream (of course!). I make it once or twice a year, and it is wonderful. I wish I could find the original recipe, but until then I do what I remember from the show.

Ray

Ray, in The NY Times archives Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet column of January 6, 1988 has a mac & cheese with the ingredients you describe. There is a similar column from May 12, 1993. He recalls his French childhood version in both recipe introductions and they were probably part of the PBS show you remember.

No wonder you’ve tried to recreate the dish for years, it sounds absolutely wonderful.

Here are the links NYT Jan 6 1988

and NYT May 12 1993

I have most of his books and the only one with mac & cheese is Cuisine Rapide with a simpler Parmesan cheese version.

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I've been looking for a Truffled Macaroni and Cheese recipe ever since I had it at Mama Maria's in Boston last year.

I've found 'similar' but not 'exact' ... NO panko, YES bacon.

What do list members have to say/share?

Ida

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