Try a refined mac and cheese for dinner

You can redefine this childhood favorite with a variety of cheeses, meats, sauces and spices

    Macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods.
    A creamy blend of pasta and cheese sauce topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, it is a staple of childhood meals.
    While the mac and cheese of childhood is always good, sometimes you crave something more.
    Try a grown-up version. Experiment with various cheeses and sauces or add vegetables and meats — how about the silky texture of lobster and crab, the crunch and smokiness of bacon or healthy nutrition of broccoli and tomato?
    Use different spices, such as curry, and various toppings, including whole-grain breadcrumbs and panko.
    You can also create a layered mac and cheese. Place half your mac and cheese in the bottom of a baking dish, then add a middle layer that features meat or veggies, and top with another layer of mac and cheese.
    No matter what, try not to stray too far from the basics — a white sauce in which cheese is melted, pasta and fresh bread that’s been toasted into crumbs.
    In a basic white sauce, a generous amount of butter is melted in a saucepan, then flour is stirred in to make a paste. After the flour has cooked for a time, hot milk is whisked in. The starch from the cooked flour expands in the milk, creating a creamy sauce.
    The type of cheese used will affect the texture. Pungent cheeses add a bit of a bite, important to some because the sauce and pasta will absorb a lot of flavor.
    Undercook the pasta so it is slightly crunchy in the center, then rinse it under cold water to stop the cooking and wash off the excess starch. The pasta will finish cooking as it bakes and the sauce will seep into the hollows, providing a creamy delicious experience in every bite.
    While adult versions are delightful as main courses, you can always go back to the childhood versions as either an entree or side dish.
    Following are grown-up versions of macaroni and cheese from seriouseats.com and delish.com.

 

    seriouseats.com

Three Ingredient Mac and Cheese

6 ounces elbow macaroni
Salt
6 ounces evaporated milk
6 ounces grated mild or medium cheddar cheese or any good melting cheese, such as fontina, gruyère or Monterey Jack

    Place macaroni in a medium saucepan or skillet and add just enough cold water to cover. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Continue to cook about six minutes, stirring, until water has been almost completely absorbed and macaroni is just shy of al dente.
    Immediately add evaporated milk and bring to a boil. Add cheese. Reduce heat to low and cook about two minutes, stirring continuously, until cheese is melted and liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce. Season to taste with more salt and serve immediately.
    If you are willing to kick the total ingredients up to more than three, try a good dash of hot sauce, some mustard powder, or a little knob of butter stirred in with the evaporated milk.

 

Jalapeño-Bacon Mac and Cheese

8 ounces diced bacon
1 to 2 red or green jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño peppers, minced
1 pound elbow macaroni
Kosher salt
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces American cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 chunks

    Cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat about eight minutes, stirring, until crisp. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh and pickled jalapeños, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Set aside. Place some of mixture to a small bowl and reserve for garnish.
    Place macaroni in a large saucepan and cover it with salted water by two inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to keep pasta from sticking. Cover pan, remove from heat and let stand eight minutes, until pasta is barely al dente.
    Whisk together evaporated milk, eggs, hot sauce and mustard in a bowl until homogeneous. Toss cheeses with cornstarch in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
    When pasta is cooked, drain, then return to saucepan. Place over low heat, add butter and stir until melted. Add bacon/jalapeño mixture, including bacon fat, milk mixture and cheese mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese is completely melted and mixture is hot and creamy. Season to taste with salt and more hot sauce.
    Serve immediately, topped with reserved bacon/jalapeño mixture.

 

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
6 ounces block American cheese, roughly grated or diced
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, roughly grated or diced
1/4 cup hot sauce
1 to 2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat
1/2 cup sliced scallion greens
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

    Combine cornstarch, evaporated milk and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until homogenous. Set aside.
    Cook pasta in a large stock pot in salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving one cup pasta cooking water. Return to stock pot and add cooking water, evaporated milk mixture, cheeses and hot sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and sauce is creamy and smooth.
    Stir in chicken and scallions, reserving some scallions for garnish. Transfer to serving bowl, top with blue cheese and scallions and serve immediately.

 

Cheeseburger Macaroni and Cheese

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 pound ground chuck
4 scallions, finely sliced, whites and greens reserved separately
1 14-ounce can Ro*Tel tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound dry elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces grated American cheese
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese

    Combine cornstarch, evaporated milk and eggs in a small bowl and whisk until homogenous. Set aside.
    Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add beef and cook about eight minutes, breaking it up, until no longer pink. Add scallion whites and cook one minute, stirring, until softened. Add tomaotes, stir to combine, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
    Cook pasta in a large stock pot of salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving one cup pasta cooking water. Return to stock pot and add cooking water, butter, evaporated milk mixture and both cheeses. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and pasta is creamy and smooth. Stir in beef mixture. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with scallion greens and serve immediately.

 

Fully Loaded Pizza Macaroni and Cheese

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage removed from casing
1/4 pound stick pepperoni, split into quarters lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound hot soppressata, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup whole canned tomatoes, roughly chopped and drained
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/4 cup sliced pepperoncini
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces block American cheese, roughly grated or diced
6 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese, roughly grated or diced
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil

    Combine cornstarch, evaporated milk and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until homogenous. Set aside.
    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook four minutes, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Add pepperoni and soppressata and continue cooking about four minutes, stirring frequently, until meat is starting to brown and crisp around the edges. Drain all but two tablespoons fat and transfer to a large bowl. Add tomatoes, olives, and pepperoncini to bowl and set aside.
    Cook pasta in a large stock pot in salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving one cup pasta cooking water. Return to stock pot and add cooking water, butter, evaporated milk mixture and the three cheeses. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and pasta is creamy and smooth. Stir in sausage/olive/tomato mixture. Stir in basil, reserving some for garnish.
    Transfer to serving bowl, top with remaining basil, drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

 

Macaroni and Cheese Waffles

1 pound dried macaroni
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing baking sheet
1 tablespoon flour
1 cups whole milk
Dash hot sauce, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon mustard
1-1/4 pounds grated cheddar cheese
Maple syrup, optional

    Place pasta in a large pot and cover with lukewarm water by two inches. Add two tablespoons salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, and cook about six minutes, until pasta is tender. Drain pasta.
    Heat butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until melted. Add flour and cook, stirring, until pale golden blond. Slowly whisk in whole milk. Whisk in hot sauce and mustard and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and stir in 3/4 pound grated cheese. Stir until melted. If smoother texture is desired, transfer to a blender and blend on high speed until glossy and smooth.
    When pasta is cooked, add cheese sauce and stir to combine. Pour mixture into a greased rimmed baking sheet and flatten with a spatula. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, until completely set.
    Carefully cut macaroni and cheese into eight even squares.
    Using a wide spatula, place one square on a cutting board. Cover top with one-quarter of the of remaining cheese. Place another square of macaroni on top of cheese, creating a sandwich.
    Place sandwich in a hot waffle maker. Close and cook about six minutes, until golden brown on both sides and cheese has crisped up. Remove from waffle iron and serve with syrup and hot sauce.
    Repeat with remaining mac and cheese.

Vegan Stovetop-Style Macaroni and Cheese

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or palm oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons ground paprika
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons spicy brown or yellow mustard
4 ounces russet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
4 ounces roasted cashews
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons miso paste
1/2 cup almond, soy or rice milk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
Kosher salt to taste
1 8-ounce box dry elbow macaroni

    Melt shortening in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook about four minutes, stirring, until completely softened but not browned. Add paprika, garlic powder, tomato paste and mustard. Cook about one minute, stirring, until fragrant and mixture starts to sizzle.
    Add potatoes and cashews and cook two minutes, stirring, until cashews are lightly toasted. Add water, miso paste and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer and cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until potatoes are fully tender.
    Transfer mixture to the jar of a high-powered blender. Add hot sauce and a pinch of salt. Start on low speed and slowly increase speed to high, blending on high speed about two minutes, until completely smooth, adding water a few drops at a time as necessary to thin to desired consistency. Season to taste with more salt.
    In a large pot, cover macaroni with cold water by two inches. Season heavily with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring, and cook, stirring occasionally, until macaroni is just tender. Drain macaroni, reserving half cup of cooking liquid.
    Return macaroni to pot. Add sauce, set over high heat and cook one minute, stirring, until macaroni is evenly coated with sauce, adding extra cooking liquid as necessary to achieve a creamy consistency. Serve immediately.

 

Macaroni and Cheese with Chickpeas and Spinach

2 teaspoons oil
4 cups roughly chopped spinach leaves
1 medium clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 pound dry elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces grated American cheese
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika

    Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook about 30 seconds, stirring, until wilted. Add garlic and cook one minute, stirring, until fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
    Combine cornstarch, evaporated milk and eggs in a small bowl and whisk until homogenous. Set aside.
    Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving one cup pasta cooking water. Return pasta to stock pot and add cooking water, butter, evaporated milk mixture, cheeses, spinach and chickpeas. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and pasta is creamy and smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with smoked paprika and serve immediately..

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