If you live in the US or Canada (and probably other places) you have spent your whole life being brainwashed that the only way to make Mac and Cheese is with the help of a blue box. Fail to use that all important box of quick cook pasta and powdered cheese and your children will never speak to you again, or you'll be obligated to legally divorce your parents, and even the dog won't eat it.
This cooks in about the same time as the box type but it's a completely different meal. It's the sort of thing you want to have for dinner after you've spent your day shoveling snow and you've just been informed that another storm will be starting tomorrow. The sauce is made with the grease from the bacon (don't judge, I explain why and offer a substitute later) and you can use almost any type of cheese you want to. The ingredients are per serving so you can cook for the number of people who are eating - no waste, no leftovers.
Step 1: Ingredients
Ingredients Per Serving (multiply by the number of diners you have)
- Dry Pasta, I just use the serving size on the box
- 1-2 strips of bacon*
- 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder (or prepared mustard, or garlic powder, or minced onions, or some other sharp flavor to balance the richness of the cheese sauce)
- salt and pepper to taste, but don't leave them out
- up to 1 tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup milk (2% or whole is better than skim, but use what you have)
- 1/4 cup cheese**
- boiling water for the pasta
*Bacon - people who lived during/shortly after the great depression have helpful wisdom about not wasting food. This tip is from my grandma. She buys a package (or a few) of bacon (usually when it's on sale, of course) then she divides it up a few strips at a time between waxed paper, puts it all in a freezer bag and freezes it. That way she can pull out a few strips for this sort of thing whenever she wants to.
** Cheese - before the advent of that plasticy orange sliced cheese known as "American," old cook books that referred to "American Cheese" meant a 50/50 blend of colby and cheddar. That's what I used for this and it's great with the mustard flavor, but this would be just as good with parmesan/asiago, or gouda, or all sharp cheddar, or whatever else you're into.
Step 2: Cook the Bacon
Cook the bacon over low heat, try to prevent the grease from smoking or scorching. I cut my strips down a bit to fit in the small saucepan to avoid extra dishes, but if you're making a bunch it would be much easier to cook the bacon in a nonstick pan.
At the same time you start the bacon also turn on the water to boil the pasta.
As pieces of bacon cook pull them out and drain them on paper towel.
Step 3: Make the Sauce
When all of the bacon is cooked remove the pan from the burner for a minute.
Put the pasta into the water to boil (this timing assumes it boils for around 10 minutes.)
Mix the flour and spices into the bacon grease.
I know, it's bacon grease and you're going to eat it. This seems to freak out a lot of people.
You could use a tablespoon of butter or margarine for each serving if you'd rather.
But honestly, they have to do some crazy stuff to vegetable oil to turn it into margarine and I would rather eat the bacon grease than margarine.
Butter and bacon grease are pretty similar nutritionally.
Do what you want, but you'll have a better smoky warm bacon flavor if you just use the grease.
Also, people who lived 100 years ago would think you were plumb crazy for not using the bacon grease.
And they should know, because "plumb crazy" is the kind of crazy you become when you use makeup with lead in it.
See also: the origin of the scary clown.
But for real, bacon grease is only scary for the same reason that blue box mac and cheese sounds like a good idea - because marketing.
Stir the grease (or whatever) and the flour/spices together. The blend of fat and flour is known as a "roux." It's the base of a white sauce.
Put the saucepan back onto a very low stove.
Stir in the milk. Give it a few minutes of stirring, all that roux paste will blend in.
Once that's blended, stir in the cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted/blended in.
When the sauce is perfect put the lid on the pan and turn off the burner. You've probably beaten the pasta to the finish line so when it's done drain it, dish it, and pour the sauce over the top.
Step 4: Serve It
Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it on top.
Next time make it with different cheese and spices. Or shredded chicken instead of bacon (be sure to add some butter/margarine if you do that.) Saute some veggies into that bacon grease before turning it into sauce. It's a great base for all kinds of ingredient variations.