When I was in college, store-brand mac and cheese was a staple of my bachelor diet, mainly because it was so cheap and easy to make--an entire box cost around 25 cents, and when you add the butter and milk, the cost doesn't rise above 50 cents. If I needed to add protein, a can of tuna would do, or if I really wanted to get fancy, some hamburger and a can of cream of mushroom soup. This is all pretty basic stuff for bachelor cooking. Now that I'm older and more accomplished, I want my mac and cheese to reflect that status.
1 box of pasta
(Choose whatever pasta you like. Most people prefer elbow macaroni for mac and cheese, but those are the same people who thought I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was funny--that is, they are stupid and not willing to take risks. I prefer rotini because I like its size and the way it holds the cheese. Whole wheat pasta can add some heft to the dish, as well.)
An assload of butter
(Seriously, and I don't mean it in the Last-Tango-in-Paris sense. For the most recent batch I made, I just hacked off a huge chunk of a two-pound block of butter I recently bought from a local organic dairy farm. It was probably about a fifth of a pound. That's right--when I cook, I measure butter in pounds. Suck on that.)
(Off in the distance, I can hear Paula Deen moaning with pleasure.)
(Here's Paula, chugging melted butter straight from the bowl.)
Lots of shredded cheese
(Here's where you can have some fun with your mac and cheese. Most recipes call for sharp cheddar, but don't just stop there. Those who limit themselves to cheddar tend to lead lives of quiet desperation. Cheddar should be your base, but add a couple of other cheeses to mix things up. For my most recent batch, I included muenster and smoked swiss [all from the same organic dairy farm as the butter]. This turned out really well. I like the smokey flavor that the swiss adds, but it's important not to overdo the swiss--it can overwhelm the flavors of the other cheeses. Two cups should be the minimum amount of cheese you use, but I usually go for three. If you increase the amount of cheese, you should also increase the milk proportionately, or you will get a grainy texture to the sauce. You can use bagged shredded cheese from your grocery store, if you are a wuss. Shredding your own cheese, however, gives you a greater sense of accomplishment.)
3 cups of milk
(I prefer skim milk, though using skim in a recipe like this is the equivalent of ordering a Diet Coke with your Hardee's Monster Thickburger--you're only deluding yourself if you think you're being healthier that way.)
1/2 cup of flour
1/3 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
(Or, as Bugs Bunny would say, "Woostershersterchestersheestershire sauce.")
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Optional ingredients: 1/2 chopped onion, 1 clove minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon horseradish, tabasco sauce, cooked bacon, or toasted bread crumbs
(Don't try all of these together, but adding one or two of them can help mix things up a bit. The bacon goes really well with smoked cheeses.)
A mistake I often make while cooking is one of efficiency: I tend to do one thing at a time, and that sometimes causes a bottleneck, where I'm waiting for something to melt or boil before I can go on to the next step. So, these instructions will emphasize multitasking in the cooking process.
Also, I don't know what certain pots and pans are called, so you'll just have to figure out what I'm talking about.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You won't need the oven until the end, but it helps to get this going first.
2. Start cooking the pasta according to the directions on the box.
3. Melt your assload of butter in a large sauce pan. This needs to be done slowly, over low heat, so it may take a while.
4. Start shredding your cheese into a large bowl. (For lazy-asses, go to your fridge, take out the bags of shredded cheese, and feel a little piece of you die inside due to your lack of ambition.)
5. Once the pasta is done, drain it and return it to its pot (but not to the heat). Set aside for later.
6. Once butter is melted, add flour, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Stir until it starts to bubble.
7. Once the mixture is bubbling, remove from heat and add the milk. Increase heat to medium. Return to heat and bring the mixture to a boil for one minute. (Here's where things could go horribly, horribly wrong. If you burn the milk, you are screwed. Stir constantly, and if you get the sense that the milk is burning, turn down the heat. This may be obvious to experienced chefs, but I had to learn this the hard way.)
8. Stir in the cheese and cook until cheese melts.
9. Pour cheese sauce over pasta and mix together.
10. Pour cheese and pasta into large rectangular glass pan.
11. Cook, uncovered, in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
When it's done, eat the crap out of it.
(One note: while I've been writing this down, I have also been eating some of my most recent batch. While it definitely rocks, I'm feeling a little queasy, too, like I'm going into some kind of lactose-induced shock. Perhaps I need to ease up on the butter, or only limit myself to one bowl when eating it.)
(Seriously, I think I may need a defib--stat.)