Macaroni and cheese

What's gonna happen

This recipe is solid. I might be the first person that goes down in history for calling a mac and cheese dish "stalwart," but that's what this is. Obviously, this dish involves cheese, which is about 50 percent of what makes life worth living, but it also holds an irrevocable mixture of memory and comfort. While I'd never pretend I don't go home after a long day and make the Kraft variety, this is the one that's clutch for a pot luck or dinner party with friends or when you just have a lot of cheese you want to get rid of.

After slightly cooking a minced clove of garlic and toasting some dry mustard until fragrant, we'll make a basic roux out of butter and flour. Adding milk to the roux and bringing it to a boil will create a thick, silky mixture. Grated cheese will finish out the sauce, after which it's time to add al dente macaroni noodles. Perfect for a crowd (because of it's make-ahead capabilities), this makes about six absurdly hearty, adult-sized portions or about eight to ten side portions. I don't just love a topping on my macaroni and cheese, but you could add crisp, rendered, crunched up bacon bits over the top, basic bread crumbs or parmesan.

What to know

From a cooking standpoint, homemade mac and cheese is cool because it involves something elemental to every chef: sauce making. Yeah, I can throw around the intimidating term of "bechamel," but it's really just a fancy French way of saying milk thickened with butter and flour. The silky cheese sauce that coats your noodles is simply a bechamel infused with cheese. It's a gateway sauce that can lead to the beautiful world of hollandaise and bernaise and aioli and so many other wonderful things.

Other thoughts for this dish: If you only own one large stove pot, boil your noodles first, strain, and set aside in a colander, and then begin on the cheese sauce. Also, while I name two particular types of cheese, if you have ends of other melting cheeses, like goat cheese, gruyere or brie, use those; keep in mind that the flavors, and saltiness especially, will change with different cheeses.

What you need

16 oz elbow or macaroni noodles

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp dry mustard

1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

5 tbsp butter

6 tbsp all purpose flour

5 cups whole milk

8 oz white cheddar, grated

8 oz monterey jack, grated 

Salt, to taste

Pepper, freshly grated to taste

Whole nutmeg, freshly grated to taste (optional)

How it works

Noodles

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. When the water reaches a boil, salt the water heavily and add the noodles. Cook one to two minutes short of the package-mandated cook time as the noodles will cook a bit more once added to the cheese sauce. Strain and set aside in colander until needed.

Cheese sauce

While you wait on the water to boil, add minced garlic to another large pot with olive oil. Over medium heat, cook garlic until translucent without adding any color. Add dry mustard and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Slice the butter into the pot and, once melted, add the flour. Allow the butter and flour mixture, or roux, to gain some color over medium heat. When it reaches a golden brown and begins to smell nutty, about two minutes, slowly pour in about one cup of milk while whisking vigorously until the roux mixture combines with the milk.

Once incorporated, slowly whisk in the remaining milk and bring it to a boil. Every minute or so, scrape the bottom of the pot with the whisk, especially the edges, to ensure that the neither the milk or the roux is sticking (aka burning) to the bottom of the pot.

When the milk reaches a boil, the mixture will begin to thicken. You know the milk is thick enough when it can coat the back of a wooden spoon and your finger can create a clear streak through the sauce. If any sauce drips or dribbles down into the path your finger forged, it’s too thin. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the burner. Add the cheese to the sauce and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the cheese is melted, add the noodles. Taste the macaroni and cheese and season with salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg. Serve immediately. This can be frozen for up to a month or kept in the fridge for up to a week, and it will fit perfectly in a 9 x 13 casserole dish.