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Sometimes we get in a dinner rut. Maybe the meat you had planned to cook was never defrosted and something needs to be made quickly to satisfy the rumbly tummies.
Mac and cheese could be the answer.
It is a great dish for individuals or crowds because it is filling and brings back the nostalgia of childhood. I’m not talking about the blue box.
I’m talking about the homemade version. Keep reading to learn how to make this quick and easy dish using a toaster oven.
The ingredients for most macaroni and cheese dishes are standard.
Macaroni, milk, cheese, salt, and pepper will be the star ingredients, but there are many options to bring your macaroni and cheese to the next level.
Let’s talk traditional first. Traditional macaroni and cheese are made with a delicious cheesy sauce. It will require you to melt butter, add some flour and create a roux.
If you want to add some creative flare to your dish, we can help you with that as well. Let’s start with the basic steps.
Make the Pasta
The first part of making a mac n cheese dish is to get the water boiling. Don’t watch the pot or the water will take too long to boil. Add a little salt to the water.
The salted water will boil a little sooner, and the salt will give flavor to the noodles. It usually takes about eight minutes to boil the macaroni.
Once you have cooked the noodles, strain the macaroni, and pour it back into the pot.
You can use any kind of smaller pasta but cook it “al dente” so it has a bite to it. You do not want mushy pasta, so make sure to cook the noodles about two minutes less than the box recommends.
The pasta will be baked later, so don’t worry if it isn’t completely cooked through. I prefer to use elbow macaroni because the sauce sticks so well in the crevices. Small shells are another great choice.
Make the Sauce
Step 1: Warm up the milk in a heavy cooking pot over medium heat. Milk that has been warmed through will help with preventing a lumpy cheese sauce. Just warm the milk. Don’t scald it.
Step 2: Make a roux. Roux sounds fancy, but it’s just a mixture of butter and flour that has been heated on the stove. This is the stuff that helps the sauce thicken.
Step 3: It is very important not to overcook or undercook the roux. It should take just a couple minutes. Whisk it. Whisk it good until the sauce thickens. The roux will be a golden color and have a nutty smell once it is ready. Add the warmed milk to the roux once it has turned that golden color. Keep whisking.
Step 4: After the main part of the sauce is made, whisk in your spices and cheese. I like to add about a teaspoon of ground mustard for additional flavor. The best way to see if there is enough spice, is to do a taste test. If the mixture tastes bland, add a pinch or two of salt. Make sure to add a few pinches of black pepper as well. The spices are what accentuate the flavor. There are even salt pepper mixtures that would be a perfect addition to this baked mac and cheese dish.
Step 5: Add the “al dente” pasta to the sauce. Pour the entire mixture into a baking dish and bake for approximately 25 minutes at 350°. You can sprinkle more cheese on top to create a gooey-cheesy, golden-brown crust on the top. I love to bake my mac and cheese in the toaster oven because I don’t heat up the kitchen. The toaster oven is just the right size for a pan of mac and cheese.
You Have Options
Change the Sauce: Make a white sauce by using white cheddar or a bechamel sauce. You can forgo the cheese and use cream or half and half instead of milk. Create a tomato meat sauce flavored macaroni and cheese. Simply add diced tomatoes, about a quarter cup tomato paste, and ground beef after you add the milk to the roux.
Change the Cheese: There are so many options when it comes to cheese, but I would never suggest using the already prepared bag of cheese. Yes, it might make some of the prep work quicker, but the final product will suffer. Cheeses like cheddar, gruyere, parmesan, fontina, or pecorino are great options, but please shred them yourself. They will melt so much better than the pre-bagged stuff.
Add Breadcrumbs: Add breadcrumbs to the top for a delicious crunch. Buy breadcrumbs from the store or make your own from whatever bread might be lying around. Mix the breadcrumbs with melted butter before putting them on the top so they will turn a beautiful golden color. Make sure to allow them to brown before removing from the oven.
Add Meat: Fry up pieces of bacon to add to the sauce. Dice up hot dogs or steak and add it to the dish. Ground beef or sausage would be yummy additions too. There are so many options!
Add Vegetables: Clean out the vegetable drawer and be creative. Sautee and add vegetables like cauliflower, onion, broccoli, or bell peppers. The vegetables will add color and flavor. Add kimchi as an unexpected ingredient. You can even replace the noodles with cauliflower if you are watching your carbohydrate intake. The options are endless!
Change up the Spices: You can’t go wrong with spices like paprika or garlic powder. They are mild enough to add flavor that most will enjoy! Make an Italian-themed mac and cheese by adding spices like basil, oregano, and parsley. Create a Mexican-themed dish by adding jalapenos, green chilis, and paprika.
Change up the Portions: Once the macaroni and cheese has been made, it is easy to spoon it into more than one prepared dish for individual portions or multiple meals. You will have macaroni and cheese at your beck and call. You can eat some now and save some for later.
This pasta dish can be jazzed up and made into a full meal with sides like garlic bread and a fresh green salad. A side of soup in colder weather makes a filling meal. Although, it tastes great on its own too!
Making it Ahead of Time
The sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in a container in the refrigerator for up to two days. Use the stovetop or microwave to gently warm up the sauce before adding to the cooked pasta.
The freezer is your friend when you decide to make a casserole-type dish. You can freeze baked macaroni and cheese for up to two months.
If you have company or a night where you don’t want to cook, pull the baking pan out of the freezer and they will think you have been cooking all day.
There are so many options for how to make a baked mac. Everything from a simple cheese sauce to experiencing flavors from places far and wide.