Baked Macaroni and Cheese
This is a Thanksgiving favorite and this recipe makes enough to feed everyone who happens to stop by.
Ideally, you want to use flavorful cheeses. The main cheeses I use most of the time include Colby, Jack, and sharp cheddar. In the future I plan to include Munster. HOWEVER, I never, ever use Velveeta.
I have a conviction that imitation cheese, or processed cheese food products (AKA American Cheese, and Velveeta) shall never come near the REAL thing. That's just me. If you like Velveeta then by all means include it in your own macaroni and cheese dish. Most people use it for the creaminess. But, there are other cheeses out there that can add to the creaminess of your dish - fontina, Havarti, and Swiss to name a few. Also, stirring in sour cream can also help to get that creamy texture that most people love.
As far as flavor goes, there are many cheeses that will give you the flavor you desire. I prefer a rich-tangy flavor, so I use sharp and extra-sharp cheddar. Colby and Monterey Jack lend a milder flavor.
With that said, pick your favorite cheeses that will give you the texture and flavor you desire but steer clear of stringy cheeses and dry cheeses that don't melt.
So . . . let's get cooking! You will need:
3 lbs elbow macaroni
3 lbs cheese (colby, jack, mild cheddar, sharp cheddar)
3 1/2 sticks of butter
8 C milk (or 4 C Evaporated Milk plus 4 cups of water)
16 oz sour cream
2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP pepper
1 TBSP mustard
1 TBSP each of (onion powder, garlic powder, paprika)
1 tsp cayenne (optional; adjust amount to taste)
1 Cup of flour (for the bechamel, basic white sauce)
Cook the pasta for 7 - 10 minutes. Add salt and olive oil to the water. You want it al dente. It will finish cooking in the oven.
Be sure to rinse the pasta in cold water and drain.
Melt butter in a large sauce pan. Be careful not to melt it too quickly. Butter burns at a low temperature.
Add a little flour at a time and whisk.
Stir constantly on a medium temperature.
Stir in salt, pepper, onion, garlic, paprika, cayenne.
When your flour mixture is a light sandy color, whisk in the milk gradually. Continue stirring.
Let it simmer for about 10 minutes while stirring constantly (this prevents it from burning at the bottom).
Stir in half of your cheeses to melt.
Putting it all together.
In a large stock pot or pan (does not matter as long as it's large enough for mixing) pour your bechamel over the pasta and mix it all together. Stir in the sour cream and the rest of your cheeses (save some for the top or just use additional cheese for the top).
Top with more cheese. Some people top with Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) mixed with melted butter. It's purely up to you.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is bubbly throughout and the edges are lightly browned.
Uncover and continue baking until the top is golden brown (optional - some people like to keep it creamy on top).
**The flavors in this dish get better the longer you let it set, so be patient. Don't dig in too soon. The flavors need a chance to explode.