Baked Mac and Cheese

(Republished from a posting on Big, Bold Beautiful Food. Originally published here.)

I grew up eating Filipino food or processed foods like Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee and hot dogs. When I left my parents’ house, I knew how to make fried rice and bistek, but had no idea how to roast a chicken or make gravy.

My mother-in-law taught me how to make gravy by eye. She would mix flour into the drippings in the roasting pan, cook it for a few minutes over medium heat on the stovetop, and then slowly add broth or water until it became a luscious sauce.

Essentially she taught me how to make a roux (a mixture of equal amounts of oil and flour) and then add liquid to make a sauce.

I translated her cooking into a formula I would never forget: 1/4 cup fat, 1/4 cup flour, 2 cups liquid = sauce. You can make a gravy, wine, or milk-based sauce out with these proportions. You can go up or down in size. Once you know the ratio, you’re good.

I taught this formula to my daughter, Christina, who wanted to make mac and cheese. Whether she’s making a little or a lot of pasta, she gets it: cook equal amounts of melted butter (fat) and flour together over medium heat for a few minutes until the floury taste is cooked out. Add milk (slowly) until it’s incorporated. Add seasonings like mustard, paprika, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Add cheese until it’s cheesy. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Add pasta, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Tonight, we decided to try making a mac and cheese and sticking it in the oven. We thought it might need a little more liquid because of the extra cooking time in the oven, so we added 3 cups of liquid instead of the normal 2 cups.

Regarding cheese, we’re not purists. We use whatever’s in the house. This time around, we had shredded mozzarella, a part of a block of cheddar cheese, Kraft American cheese slices, and parmesan cheese.

It was delicious! Christina loved the addition of the buttered panko topping to her usual stovetop mac and cheese. We served it with the best braised short ribs ever. My husband, who doesn’t normally eat carbs, had two helping of this irresistible and classic American favorite.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups (skim) milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
A couple dashes worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika
12 ounces sharp cheddar or other cheeses, shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Topping:
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta in heavily salted, boiling water until al dente, as directed on the pasta box. When done, drain (don’t rinse), set aside in a medium casserole dish, and toss with a little butter, so the pasta doesn’t stick together.

Melt 3 tbs. butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add flour and mix into the butter with a whisk. Cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat to cook the floury taste out.

Increase heat to medium and slowly add milk a little at a time, whisking to incorporate. Go slowly, adding 1/4 cup at a time at first, whisking continuously, and then 1/2 a cup at a time, so that the flour has a chance to absorb the liquid and your sauce will be smooth.

Add paprika, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in cheeses. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Add pasta to the sauce and mix together. It should be saucy. Add the pasta and sauce to the casserole dish.

Melt a tbs. of butter in the microwave in a bowl. Add panko breadcrumbs and stir until coated. Spread panko mixture evenly over pasta.

Cook in the oven for 30 minutes or until it’s browned on top and bubbling on the edges. If it’s bubbling but not fully browned, you can put the dish under the broiler to quickly brown the top.

Enjoy!

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