Macaroni to Please
Macaroni and cheese is a feel-good food, but it's not a health food, especially not this recipe. It's cheese and noodles and cream. This is no time for health.
There is Velveeta in this recipe. Nothing melts the same way.* Velveeta's the base for the cheese sauce, and it will allow your mac and cheese to be smooth and luscious, while never competing with with other cheeses in the dish. The shredded cheeses in this recipe can vary, and a mix of cheeses gives a nice complexity to the dish. Good cheese combos are: cheddar/jack, cheddar/colby, gruyere/jack, gruyere/gouda, gruyere/gouda/parmesan. Almost all of the shredded cheese combos at the grocery store will work, or you can shred your own bricks of cheese. If you're going single-cheese with the shreds, be aware that using only cheddar could result in oily or chunky cheese sauce because cheddar often doesn't melt gracefully.
The Master Recipe
1 lb. elbow macaroni
8 oz. Velveeta brick, sliced up for easier melting
2 c. shredded cheese
1 pt. heavy whipping cream
Cook the macaroni in salted water until it is just barely al dente--you don't want it mushy. Drain the macaroni. Drop half of the cream and the sliced Velveeta into the pan you boiled the macaroni in and put a low heat under it, and stir, making sure to keep the Velveeta moving so it doesn't burn. As the Velveeta melts, add the shredded cheese and the rest of the whipping cream. You want all the cheese melted into a smooth sauce before you add it to the pan. When the cheese sauce is mostly smooth, mix the noodles in and coat them with the sauce. Bake in an ungreased 9x13 pan in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until it's bubbling at the sides and starting to set, and the top is slightly brown. You can brown the top to your liking, but be careful. If you use a glass pan, you'll be able to tell if the bottom is getting too well done. Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving, if you can wait that long.
If you're feeling adventurous you can use one or more of the following changes to personalize the recipe.
For a creamier, saucier, ridiculously cheesy mac, add an additional 4 oz. of whipping cream and 4 oz. Velveeta to the macaroni, plus 1 c. shredded cheese. You can definitely play with how much cheese and whipping cream is in the sauce, just taste it to make sure you don't overdo it. Always taste as you go!
Add two beaten eggs to the recipe (mix in with the cream beforehand so they don't scramble) if you would like a puffier, fluffier, almost souffle-like effect for your mac and cheese.
Mix dry (1 1/2 tsp.) or prepared (1-2 tbs.) mustard into the cream before adding to the macaroni, which will intensify the cheese flavor but also impart a slight mustardy note. Halve the mustard for a less obvious mustard flavor.
You can add tabasco (up to 2 tsp.) and/or cayenne pepper (up to 1/2 tsp.) to the mixture if you choose, with or without the mustard. Don't do this unless you like your macaroni and cheese with a kick!
If you are using nutty or mellow cheeses, up to 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg is a nice addition. You probably don't want to add tabasco or much mustard to a nutty or mellow cheese mix.
Reserve 1/2 c. of the shredded cheese or use extra to put on top of the whole thing before you put it in the oven, as a sort of cheesy crust. Gouda in particular makes a tasty topping.
Add 1 c. breadcrumbs, crushed potato chips, crushed crackers or even crushed corn flakes to the top of your macaroni and cheese with or without the shredded cheese to make a crunchier crust. This isn’t my personal fave but some people do like it. You do you.
*Yay food science! Yay mac and cheese!