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Down Home Comfort

November 16, 2011

One of the most down-home sides and an absolute comfort food, mac and cheese is another usual side for Thanksgiving.  It’s also super easy to make, and if you assemble the casserole beforehand, it’s just about ready in the time you let the turkey rest and carve it.

This recipe is mentioned in one of my favorite recipe books, and is from the back of Velveeta boxes.  I personally love the recipes on the back of boxes as they’re meant to let the product they come with shine at its best!

Again, the measures showed in the pictures are not quite relevant, as I made only a half batch.

First, cook 2 cups of elbow macaroni according to the instructions on the package.  Drain it well.

In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter, and whisk in 1/4 cup of flour to make a roux, and cook it for 2-3 minutes.  Be careful not to brown the flour, and especially not to burn it!

Roux

Roux

Then, add 1 cup of milk – some recommend it to be warm, but in my experience, room temperature is just fine.  Fridge-cold milk may curdle, however – I usually just set the required amount of milk out on the counter by the stove as I start, and it warms up just perfectly by the time I need it.  Stir it in carefully, making sure there are no lumps from the roux, and cook it, stirring continuously, until it thickens into basically an unseasoned bechamel sauce.

Bechamel base

The bechamel base

Now, add 1/2 pound (8 ounces) of Velveeta – the package has 4-oz markings, so no need for measuring (and who minds if it becomes a little cheesier?).  Now it’s basically an extra-cheesy gratin sauce!  You can use other easy-to-melt cheeses, too, but in my experience, Velveeta is just the best.  I tore it to chunks before adding it, so it melts faster and more evenly.

Cheese

Melty, tasty, cheesy

Once the cheese is well melted, add the drained macaroni, and pour everything into a greased casserole dish.  Top it with shredded Cheddar cheese – I skipped this step, as I was already halfway through everything when I realized I ran out of cheddar.  Oh well – this just makes the top nice and crispy brown, so if you should find yourself in a similar bind, it’s OK to leave it out.  You can also use other kinds of cheeses – Swiss for a smoother taste, or pepper jack for a little kick.

Melt another tablespoon of butter – I just put it in a pinch bowl and threw it in the microwave for a few seconds.  Mix it with some cracker crumbs – the original recipe prescribes 6 Ritz snack crackers, but I took the liberty of upgrading it to the equivalent of 10.  The easiest and quickest way to crumble them is a zipper bag – put them in, zip ’em up, and go at it with the meat tenderizer, a heavy can or a rolling pin.  Faster than the food processor, and less dishes to wash (and an added stress relief with the pounding).  Sprinkle the buttery crackers on top of the casserole.  You can also use breadcrumbs, but the crackers really give the dish that extra something.  For a variety, try cheese crackers, or spiced wheat or saltine-type crackers.

Prebake

Tasty little crumbles on top

Bake it for 20-25 minutes in a 350-degree oven, until the whole dish is heated through and the top is golden brown.  This is actually a better-keeping side, that is, if there’s anything left from it!

Mac and Cheese

Down-home Mac and Cheese

Enjoy your meal!

 

Note:  I’m not affiliated with or paid for by Kraft, Velveeta or Ritz crackers – I just happen to love these products and use them in my cooking; the original recipe is copyright to Kraft Foods.

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