Today, due to a request from my hubby, I am going to go over what is probably one of the most popular side dishes today...Mac & Cheese. Why is it so popular...is it the cheese, the pasta, or the ease of preparation that makes it stand out in today's culture? I would have to say all 3 play key factors.
Mac & Cheese is usually most kid's favorite side dish (most adults, too). I have yet to meet a child that doesn't love it...of course, I don't get out much (haha). It's a versatile choice, too...you can serve it plain, fancy it up into a one dish supper, or you can make it gourmet...the possibilities are almost as endless as your imagination!!
A little history on mac & cheese...believe it or not, it's been mentioned in writings as far back as the 14th century, and was considered primarily an upper class cuisine until the 18th century. Obviously, it's popularity has lasted a LONG time. It's popularity in the United States has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson for serving it at a White House dinner in 1802, and it's been popular in the United Kingdom since the Victorian era.
So what are the primary ingedients to a simple mac & cheese, you ask? Well, those are easy...macaroni noodles, cheese, and a binder...usually consisting of milk, butter, and egg. Most box versions skip the egg due to already having something in the mix that takes it's place. However, as stated earlier, the only limits to what you put in it are those your imagination gives you. I won't go into making box versions, since I doubt that there's anyone who hasn't learned to do that yet. Instead, let's focus on homemade...ALWAYS tastier.
To make homemade mac & cheese, you will need the following items (this recipe feeds 4 with a little leftover):
2 cups dry macaroni noodles
1/2 to 1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter or magarine
2 lg eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded cheese blend (I recommend a cheddar and monteray jack blend)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Boil the noodles according to package directions until slightly shy of done (you want them to be just a wee bit tough...they'll finish cooking when you bake them). Do NOT salt the water, or add oil. Once done, drain thoroughly, and set aside to allow the excess water to evaporate (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup milk, butter, 2 eggs, and seasonings in a small bowl.
In a 9x13 pan, place the noodles, and pour the milk mixture over them, stirring to coat each one. If needed, add the remaining 1/2 cup milk slowly while stirring, so that what you have is a bit soupy...don't worry, it won't remain that way. Add 1 1/2 cups of cheese and stir lightly to mix. Top the whole concoction with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, until top cheese is bubbly and brown. Remove from oven, and allow to sit for at least 5 minutes (this allows it to finish "setting up").
That's it...you're done!! Easy, wasn't it?
Now that you have your basic recipe, let's get a little creative!! I HIGHLY recommend trying any or all of the following additions. These are in addition to the regular ingredients (not substituting), and they give character and depth to the flavor, so each one brings a unique element all it's own:
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped sweet onions (Vidalia, or the like)
1 14oz can chopped tomatoes, drained well
1 cup sweet peas
1/2 cup chopped brocolli florets
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
Now, I've purposely left adding meats of any kind for last because (at least to me), meat changes it from a side dish to a Main dish. So here now is a list of meats that works well with the flavors, and really put some "heart" into the flavor:
1 cup sliced hotdogs (preferably all beef)
1 cup sliced Italian sausage
1 cup cubed ham
1 can tuna, drained well (I use Albacore in water)
1 cup ground beef, browned and drained well
I'm sure you noticed, especially with the ground beef, that I'm not using a whole lot of meat here. You certainly can add more if you wish...as I said, the only limit is your imagination. My reason for not using as much is that we are enhancing flavors, not overpowering them. Using a whole pound of ground beef is a little much.
And now, for my all time favorite Mac & Cheese supper, here is the recipe that I've used for over 20 years, and it's ALWAYS gone when the meal is over!! Start with the basic recipe above, and add the following:
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 can tuna, drained well (again, Albacore in water)
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Prepare the basic recipe, adding the additional ingredients, and bake as normal. And there you have it...a meal for a family with very little fuss, but lots of complements!!
Here's some links to some YUMMY gourmet recipes...some are a little more complicated than others, but you can see what I mean about versatility:http://www.nowpublic.com/style/5-gourmet-macaroni-and-cheese-recipes-2008-tillamook-contest-winners