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Mac & Cheese

Actually, I don't know if you can technically call this "MAC & Cheese".  I have always preferred penne or rigatoni noodles to macaroni noodles because they are bigger... so the cheese melts all around and inside of them... and when you bite in to it, the cheese squirts out in your mouth and for that moment you think you have died and gone to heaven...  So NO little macaroni noodles in this house!

Warning, this recipe is not really Weight Watchers friendly, (this big pan I put at 12 servings and each serving is 13 points), but I have to indulge my fam every now and then and this is my kids absolute favorite meal that I have been making since they were little.  I'm not a fabulous cook in any measure of the word, but when I make this for dinner you would think that I had served them a gourmet four course meal.  Hearing them "oooooh" and "mmmmm" for the 15 minutes we are eating makes me one happy mama.  :)

So here is the catch... I have been making this for SOOOOOOOOOOO long and I don't use a recipe and I don't measure anything.  So here are the ingredients and my best guesstimation for the amounts... (And by the way, this makes a TON!)

24 oz rigatoni or penne pasta (or one 12oz box of each)
1/2 stick butter or marg (4 Tbsp)
2-3 Tbsp cornstarch
4 cups milk
16oz SHARP cheddar cheese (I just use the bags of pre-shredded)
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard (IMHO, this is the key to any good mac & cheese, so don't leave it out)
Dash of salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
8-12oz shredded three cheese blend

Cook your pasta in lightly salted boiling water for aprox 8-10 minutes... you don't want it all the way cooked because it is going to continue to cook in the oven. 

While your pasta is cooking you start by making a basic white bechamel sauce... (If you have never heard of this, it is a french white sauce that can be used as is or as the base for many sauces depending on what you add to it... I use it as the base for cheese sauce, alfredo sauce, sausage gravy... you name it!)

Make a roux, (pronounced "roo"), by melting the butter in a large saucepan till frothy and then stirring in the corn starch.  (It will look like a thick yellow paste.)  Let it cook for a couple of minutes then whisk in the milk, (four cups or enough to fill the saucepan 1/3 to 1/2 the way full), salt and pepper.  Keep whisking until the sauce starts to thicken.  (For basic bechamel you would just add a pinch of nutmeg here, but for this cheese sauce I leave that out.)

When you feel the sauce start to thicken, add the 16oz of shredded sharp cheddar and the mustard and whisk until it's all melted and smooth.  By now your pasta should be cooked.  Drain it and return it to the big pot and pour the heavenly melted cheesiness all over it.  Try not to just eat the noodles out of the pan at this point because it smells soooooooooooo good and you will practically be drooling.

I like to use one of the disposable lasagna pans for this dish, because it is slightly bigger than a 13x9 and this fits in there perfectly.  (Plus they are 2/$1 at the dollar store and you can just toss it when you are done.)  Spray it with pam and pour HALF the pasta mixture into the pan.  Now here is the secret... sprinkle that half of the pasta mixture with half of the three cheese blend, then pour the remaining pasta mixture over the top and repeat with the other half of the three cheese blend.

VoilĂ !  Now how easy was that???  Your dinner will look like this before you bake it...

My kids are usually begging to steal noodles out of it by this point, but tell them no!  Now throw it in a 425 degree oven for 20-25 mins.  You want it bubbly and golden on the top and just starting to crisp on the edges... like this...

Hmmm... I couldn't decide which pic I liked better... they both make my mouth drool... so you get another one...

Now dish it up and be the hero.  You deserve it! :)


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