The Gift of Holiday Cheese

Happy Holidays to you and yours! There’s no meal plan this week because I’m officially on vacation, going with the flow, spending time with the family, and generally just living life instead of planning it. As a nod to my usual shenanigans on here I thought I would share something special as a gift to the online universe (tis the season): The Gift of Holiday Cheese, my recipe for homemade mac n’ cheese, which I have included on the menu quite possibly a dozen times over the last year.

But first, I dedicate this post to my late Grandma Phyllis, who was the originator of this homemade delight. Grandma Phil guarded this recipe closely and wouldn’t share it with anyone for years – at least that’s how I remember it. She used to cook the most delectable goods when we visited… including mini cupcakes that were straight up magical and imprinted in my memory for all eternity. Somehow her mac n’ cheese became the stuff of legend in my childhood and I can remember her *finally* breaking down one day to tell me that “it’s really just a cheese sauce with chips on top”. I guess it wasn’t really that groundbreaking but at the same time, it made me feel so special when she whispered the secret in my little ear. My mother started making her own version of my Grandma Phil’s mac n’ cheese in our household soon after with an outrageously easy cheese sauce that’s made in the microwave and here I am, a couple decades later, carrying on the tradition.

(Grandma, I hope you aren’t pissed that I’m giving this recipe to the entire online world, but in my defence, my final product really doesn’t compare to yours so I’m sure there was some other secret you weren’t sharing!)

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup butter (or margarine)

4 tablespoons of flour

2 tablespoons of powdered chicken stock*

*Note: If you don’t have powdered chicken stock then you can just use an additional 2 tablespoons of flour instead, but you’ll want to add salt to the cheese sauce since it is seasoned by the chicken stock.

2 cups of milk (or cream, or a mix of milk and cream… whatever floats your boat)

2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese (other cheeses are acceptable!)

3/4 package of macaroni

1 generous cup of BBQ chips (Ruffles brand is the very best in my opinion)

Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

**Note: The recipe for this cheese sauce is made in the microwave. It’s so basic I feel like I should preface these directions by pointing out that you could easily make the sauce on the stovetop by just heating the milk slowly and whisking until it thickens… I’ve never done this myself because the microwave method is so tried and true, but I’ve made enough roux in my day to know that doing this on the stovetop would most probably yield the same results.

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Boil the macaroni according to the time indicated on the package while you prepare the cheese sauce.
  • In a large bowl, melt the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Add the flour and powdered chicken stock to the melted butter and mix well with a whisk.

butter-flour

  • When the dry ingredients are well incorporated, add the milk and stir to combine.

flour-milk

  • Microwave for 6 minutes (or until thickened), removing from the microwave every minute to stir the mixture with the whisk.

microwave

  • Once thickened, stir the cheese into the mixture until it is completely melted.

cheese

  • Add the cheese sauce to the cooked macaroni and stir well to coat all the pasta.

mac

  • Prep the chips for the top of the casserole by putting them into a plastic bag and smashing them with something heavy, like a glass measuring cup or your fists.

chips

  • Grease a baking dish, add the cheesy macaroni, and top with the crushed chips and Parmesan cheese.

bake

  • Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the top of the casserole is golden brown.

mac-n-cheese

Yum. Yum, yum, yum. Lately I have taken to doubling the recipe so I can make 2 casseroles and freeze 1. To reheat the casserole from frozen, you just throw it into the oven at 375°F for 1 hour, covered in aluminium foil. Remove the foil and continue to cook for another 15 minutes, or longer if it isn’t fully heated through. (My thanks to Martha Stewart for the guidance on cooking / reheating frozen pasta casseroles.)

My hope is that you will enjoy this cheesy dish as much as I do, whether on a cold winter night or any other time of the year. Because, really. Cheese.

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