Easy Peasy Homemade Mac n Cheese

For so many, macaroni and cheese is a hands-down favorite comfort food. A specialty dish that was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson, it was his cousin Mary Randolph who popularized it in her cookbook “The Virginia Housewife,” published in 1824 (available free from Gutenberg.org or Archive.org).

I love cheese. It might go back to not having been allowed to eat dairy for the first nine years of my life, or it might be that I now live in Ireland where cows are grass-fed and the dairy rivals what I’ve enjoyed in Normandy, California, and Wisconsin. But no matter the origin of the affection, I love cheese.

For me, Mac N Cheese is a taste of home, especially valued as an expat. Comfort food any time of the year. It is up there with a homemade blueberry or cherry pie for favorite gooey foods. For us expats, it really is a luxury. The orange mac n cheese is an expensive import here in Ireland, so making our own is not only healthier, but easier and more cost-effective. And that love of cheese is why, when the weather gets a little cooler, my thoughts instantly go to making cheesy soups, bake brie en croute, dips, and alfredo sauces.

Petit Pont-L'Évèque cheese from Iago in Cork's English Market

I previously tried Edible Ireland’s Irish Farmhouse Mac N Cheese recipe. The lovely Edible Ireland herself, Kristin, also was the recipe editor for my Bake Knit Sew book so you know an Edible Ireland recipe is one that is accurate and functional!

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Whether you dress it up or down or enjoy it as a side or main dish, homemade mac n cheese offers delicious versatility and partners perfectly with many meals. It travels well, too, for tailgating or bring-a-dish parties. But, let’s face it, the quality of mac n cheese comes down to the quality of the cheese, so spring for a good one with rich flavour. I love me some Jarlsberg in mine!

This particular easy peasy homemade mac n cheese recipe uses three cheeses, giving it a rich, creamy texture and fantastic flavor. While curly pasta is pictured here, you can easily substitute elbow. With so many tasty possibilities, don’t limit yourself to the variations below.

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Easy Peasy Homemade Mac n Cheese

2 cups (8 ounces) curly or elbow style pasta
1/2 stick butter, divided
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1 4-ounce log chevre (a fresh, soft un-ripened goat cheese)
2 cups coarsely shredded Jarlsberg (or Swiss) cheese
1 cup cubed American cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 2-quart round ovenproof casserole dish. Cook pasta one minute less than package directions; transfer to colander, and drain. In same pot over very low heat, melt butter; remove from heat. Measure 2 tablespoons butter and, in small bowl, combine it with breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Set aside.

Return pot to heat. Whisk in flour and simmer until bubbly (1 minute). Gradually add milk, goat cheese and shredded Jarlsberg. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is creamy and thickens slightly. Return pasta to the pot and toss until coated; mix in diced American cheese.

Transfer to prepped casserole dish (or several individual oven-safe dishes like shown just below) and sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs and a dash of nutmeg.

Bake 30 minutes or until center is bubbly-hot and crumbs are golden. Serves 8-10.

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VARIATIONS

When combining pasta with cheese sauce, fold in:

•    2 cups cooked small shrimp (or one can of tuna, drained) with 1 cup frozen petite peas.
•    2 cups each chopped cooked beef and mushrooms.
•    2 cups each cubed kielbasa or ham and chopped grape tomatoes. Instead of buttered breadcrumb topping, top with crushed, lightly salted tortilla chips.
•    2 cups each chopped cooked chicken and broccoli florets.
•    2 cups cauliflower florets with 1 cup cooked crumbled bacon.

I always add a dash of nutmeg and a little roasted garlic. I usually use white cheddar, some blue cheese crumbs, and a little mature red cheddar leftover from grilled cheeses and quesadillas. Though shredded mozzarella is tempting, I don’t love it in this dish as much as just melted over something.

What is your favourite dish to celebrate the existence of cheese? Do you agree that dairy is the other white meat, not pork?

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Macaroni and cheese! Comfort food for #sundaycookoff @mrcbehan

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