No need for a microwave container or box with powdered neon substance: make your own macaroni & cheese!
Here's our base recipe, use the steps that follow to help you manage the order in which you prepare, measure and cook!
- 12 oz Macaroni (shells, tubes, rotelli - many shapes work well)
- 1/4 cup butter (that's half a cube)
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 Tablespoon mustard
- 12 oz grated cheese (Italian blend or cheddar work well)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
Note: using a stovetop and oven can be dangerous - be sure the chef knows how to safely use a stovetop & oven. If in doubt, be sure an adult is present. Here's an excerpt from FireProof Children:
- Stay close to the stove and watch it carefully when you’re cooking food.
- Keep a pan’s lid and a dry oven mitt nearby, and know what to do if food or grease catches fire.
- Keep anything that can catch fire, including oven mitts, towels, wooden utensils, a safe distance from the stovetop.
- Turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
- Wear short, close fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
- Always use oven mitts when putting things in or taking things out of the oven.
- In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed
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Step 1: Prepare Your Space, Get Out Your Supplies
Clear off your kitchen counterspace to give you enough room for safe food preparation. If you have a dishrack or dishwasher full of clean dishes, put them away so there's room for dirty dishes in your way.
Once you have the space, get your your supplies ready:
- 2 medium-large saucepans (pots for the stove, about 4 quart capacity)
- Heatproof kitchen colander (usually made of metal)
- Heat-resistant spoon (such as a wooden spoon)
- Heat-resistant whisk (such as a metal whisk)
- Kitchen scissors
- Liquid measuring cup (2 cup capacity)
- Measuring spoons
Step 2: Start the Macaroni Water
Fill the larger of your two pots 3/4 full of water, or 8 cups, whichever is smaller. Place it on a burner and turn the burner on to medium-high.
Step 3: Prepare Your Ingredients
With a kitchen knife, cut 1/4 cup of butter (use the lines on the butter package - it will likely be 1/2 a cube.) Place the butter in your second medium-large saucepan (do not turn on burner yet.)
Measure out 3 Tablespoons of flour, place in a small bowl near your workspace.
Measure out 2 cups of milk, ideally in a liquid measuring pourer, keep near your workplace.
Measure out 1 cup of breadcrumbs, set aside.
Be sure your salt, pepper, and mustard containers are nearby.
Get out a 8"x11" baking dish (lasagne pan or similar), and spray the bottom and sides with oil. If you don't have spray oil, pour about 1 tsp of oil in the base of the baking dish and using a paper towel rub the oil all along the inside surface.
Step 4: Cook the Pasta, Preheat the Oven
As the water is boiling, check the package of your pasta to learn how long it takes to cook. You'll see this package indicates 9 - 11 minutes.
Once the water is boiling, carefully pour 12 oz of your pasta into the boiling water. Then, set a kitchen timer for the number of minutes needed for cooking (I recommend the lowest of the times, in this case 9 minutes.) Let the noodles boil, without a lid (uncovered.)
While the pasta is boiling, turn on your oven to 400 degrees.
When your timer goes off, drain your pasta in a metal collander. Be very careful - the pot will be heavy, if in doubt ask an adult or older sibling to help with this step.
Once the pasta has drained, place it back into the cooking pot you just emptied, and mix in a little bit (1 teaspoon) of oil to make sure the pasta doesn't stick to itself.
Step 5: Make the Roux
Place your second saucepan (the one that should have 1/4 cup butter in it) on a burner, turn to medium heat.
The butter will start melting. When it is fully melted, add your pre-measured flour and stir with a wooden or heat-resistant spoon. It'll be sticky, keep mixing until you can't see white bits of flour.
Then, keep mixing for about 5 minutes, over medium heat. You should notice the mixture turns slightly yellow, maybe even a little brown, and get a little thinner.
Once it has turned this color & texture, get your whisk ready. Slowly and steadily, pour the milk into the saucepan and whisk it into the flour & butter mixture. It'll sizzle a little at first. Stir with the whisk quickly, with the heat still on.
As you stir with your whisk (it's called 'whisking'), you should notice that after a few minutes the mixture will suddenly get thick. This is the flour-butter mixture reacting with the milk. Once you notice this thickness, turn the burner off.
Step 6: Make It Cheezy
As soon as you turn your burner off, mix in the 12 oz of grated cheese. The warmth of the roux will melt it in.
Then, measure out & add
- 1 Tablespoon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
You can measure each over a plate to the side of the pot, then once measured carefully pour directly into the pot. That way, if you spill by mistake the spilt ingredient won't over-season what is already in the pot.
You should now have a gooey sauce in your saucepan.
Step 7: Mix the Macaroni With the Cheese
You should now have one pot of macaroni, and one pot of cheesey sauce. Pour whichever is in the smaller pot into the larger pot (e.g. hopefully the sauce is in the smaller pot, so you'll pour the sauce into the pot with the pasta). If it looks too small, you can get a large bowl and put the contents of both pots into one bowl.
Mix well with your wooden spoon, then pour into the oiled baking dish.
Top with pre-measured 1 cup of breadcrumbs.
Step 8: Bake, Set the Table, and Serve!
Carefully place in the pre-heated oven, and set a timer for 15 minutes.
While the Macaroni & Cheese bakes, set your table with the following items per person:
- Large plate
- Glass for beverage of choice
If you are serving with a side salad, now's a great time to put that on the table too. A fruit salad or a green salad goes well with this meal.
When the timer goes off, check to see if the Macaroni & Cheese looks done. It should be a little brown on top, and/or bubbling a little on the sides. If it doesn't look ready, set your timer for another 5 minutes.
When done, get your oven mitts or potholders and carefully pull out of the oven. If your family is careful, you can put the dish on a trivet or two potholders on your dining table and serve at the table.
Step 9: Next Time: Make It Your Own!
Now that you've made Macaroni and Cheese once, you can get creative!
- Try using other cheeses! You can hand-grate your favorites, or chop into small cubes (the smaller they are, the better they will melt) This recipe is a great way to use extra cheese you have in the refrigerator.
- Add in other ingredients: after the cheese has melted you can add many other items. Cooked bacon, sliced sausages, even some chopped-up vegetables can be tasty.
- Try different spices: instead of 1 Tablespoon of mustard, try:
- 1 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 tsp hot sauce for a Mexican-style flavor
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or oregano, basil, or thyme) and 2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese for an Italian-style flavor