Baked Macaroni and Cheese: Bliss in a Dish

By Charleen - July 31, 2019

The ultimate comfort food! Elbow macaroni or cavatappi cradled in a creamy sauce with bites of sharp cheddar and subtle spices to tantalize the tongue. This easy and delicious recipe has been a family favorite since 1995. Plus, a glimpse of memorable restaurant mac 'n cheese creations. 
First a bit of context, I love macaroni and cheese so much that I was once kicked out of an "all-you-can-eat" buffet restaurant called Sir George's Smorgasbord House. I was 5 years old, shorter than the counter top as I had to stretch up over my head to get the small plate with the tiny scoop of mac and cheese. They said I went back too many times and asked us to leave, even though none of us ate any seafood, prime rib or other expensive items. My dad was so mad that we never went back.
Shortcut to the printable Love2Chow recipe.
I've enjoyed my share of the Kraft variety with the powdered cheeses and the thin, mildly curved noodles. While several men that I know all seemed to share a penchant for making a meal of boxed mac and cheese with cut up hot dogs, I was much more likely to add spinach and mushrooms to ramen noodles. I also didn't really care for the Velveeta version, with its shiny, gluey processed texture. Even the addition of burnt ends from smoked brisket doesn't fix the apparently cheese food-dominant sauce served by one area restaurant. But I found myself liking the Boston Chicken/Boston Market rotini mac and cheese side despite its slightly gluey texture -- it must have been the addition of blue cheese into the Cheddar and American cheese mix.

Over the years, a handful of transcendental mac and cheese experiences at restaurants across the country have made their impression.
Urban Solace: Duckaroni
Skillet of Duckaroni - Urban Solace, San Diego, CA by Chef Matt Gordon. This is a divine rendition of Mac 'n Cheese featuring duck confit, Maytag blue cheese, arugula, scallions and roasted garlic. It is cooked and served in a small cast iron skillet with the cheese bubbling and the protruding edges of duck and biscuit crumb topping browned to crispy perfection. Some peppery arugula and the subtle bite of green onions add refreshing contrasts in color and flavor. I had the good fortune of sampling this amazing appetizer during two separate visits to San Diego. Unfortunately, while writing this post, I discovered that Urban Solace closed this past March, after 12 years of deliciousness. Fortunately, the recipe for Matt's cheese & chive biscuits, which form the crumbly topping, can be found online. I guess I'll have to get a cast iron skillet and figure out how to recreate duckaroni!
Urban Solace: Cheddar-Chive biscuits with Orange-Honey Butter & Smoked Tomato Jam
Brisket Mac & Cheese - Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room, 139 7th St., Pittsburgh, PA. 412-281-5700. Open 7 days a week for lunch, dinner and late night snacking. No reservations. Although I adore the creative, wood-fired pizzas, the salads, and the house-cured bacon candy, it is the brisket mac & cheese that I end up thinking about. This comes in a hearty ceramic bowl featuring fresh cavatappi spirals in a white cheddar sauce, punctuated by wood-smoked beef brisket, caramelized onions, and a perfectly balanced deep red, tart-sweet barbecue sauce. This is an ideal dish, paired with one of the half salads for a winter evening watching a show in the Cultural District.
Proper Brick Oven: Brisket mac & cheese
Baked Mac & Cheese - The Parish Cafe, 361 Boylston St., Boston, MA. 617-247-4777. This Back Bay restaurant is perfect after a day spent exploring the Freedom Trail in the Boston Common, or just before joining a Haunted Boston Ghost tour in the evening. The cafe is known for its unique sandwiches, each named after the Boston chef who created it. In addition, the full or half servings of baked mac & cheese leaves everyone wishing they had ordered it. The base dish features a mix of gruyere, romano and monterey jack cheeses, whose shredded edges are nicely browned and crusted against the ceramic gratin. A buttery sprinkle of Ritz cracker crumbs adorns the top. While the base dish is tasty, a stand-out feature is the ability to add bacon, mushrooms and/or spinach.
Parish Cafe: baked mac & cheese with bacon and mushrooms

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Now on to the recipe...
As a homework assignment for an online MOOC entitled Science & Cooking,  I recently learned how to make a white sauce using real milk, butter and cheddar cheese that magically transformed into the color and texture of the common stove top mac and cheese. (So maybe I can't tell if a sauce was made from processed cheese food or not). Yet nothing compares to a simple, but tasty recipe that I have tweaked over the years to just the right creamy-white texture peeking out from a blanket of extra sharp cheddar. This recipe was modified from the Horseradish Grill in Atlanta, which appeared in the September 1995 issue of Bon Appetit.
What makes it so good?  I think it is the combination of a creamy, almost frothy sauce that results from whisking whipping cream, layered with subtle flavors of mustard, Worchestershire sauce, nutmeg and cayenne. And of course the unexpected burst of sharp cheddar when you bite into a melty cheese cube, distinct, yet complementary to both sauce and a slightly browned, molten layer of sharp cheddar on top.

Please enjoy the recipe and share what you think. Click here for a Printer formatted version
Click here to read about Daddy's Chili Mac, another easy and crowd-pleasing casserole pictured below.

Ultimate Mac & Cheese, Daddy's Chili Mac, green salad

Ultimate Love2Chow Mac 'N Cheese                                                                                           July 31, 2019

1 lb block of extra sharp cheddar, divided into 8 oz (w) halves
3 1/2 cups dry elbow macaroni or cavatappi
4 Tbs flour
1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 cups milk
1.5 cups whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins®)

1.     Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish or a 2 quart pan.
2.     Cut 8 oz (w) of the cheese into 1/2 inch cubes. Grate the remaining cheese.
3.     Boil the macaroni until just tender (al dente), following package instructions. 
4.     Drain and transfer to greased baking dish. Stir in cubed cheese.
5.     While macaroni is cooking, whisk together the dry ingredients for the sauce (flour to nutmeg) until finely dispersed with no lumps.
6.     Gradually whisk the milk and then whipping cream into the dry mixture until frothy.
7.     In a smaller bowl or 2 cup measuring cup, beat eggs with Worchestershire sauce, and then sour cream. Fold into the milk/cream mixture.
8.     Pour over macaroni, pressing down on protruding noodles. Top with shredded cheese.
9.     Bake 25-30 min. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
🐾 Don't wait too long after noodles are cooked to add the sauce and place in oven. This dish does not work well if you try to make the noodles ahead of time to bake later.

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