I've been playing with my Christmas toys.
I'm not talking Barbie Dream Houses and American Girl dolls (oh memories). I'm talking baking cookbooks, cast iron skillets, and shiny new knives. And these little bowls. A set of four Le Creuset soup bowls given to me by my favorite Aunt and Uncle and fellow blogging cousin over the holidays. It was love at first sight. And I didn't waste any time putting them to use. Enter: mac and cheese.
Now this is supposed to be a copycat version of the Panera Bread Co. recipe; however, I couldn't say, as I've never tried it, but it hasn't gone unnoticed. As a (formerly) frequent viewer of the Panera menu I have their offerings down pat and recall the cheesy pasta advertised on display boards near the register (Nathan and I ate our fair share of lunches there during our years in college, but down where we live now the locations are few and far between. Tear. Side note: Panera will always hold a special place in my heart- it's where we ate the night we officially decided to be a couple. Oh come on people, you remember this kind of stuff too!). But after stumbling upon this recipe and receiving my pretty new bowls...well...let's just say I put two and two together: mac and cheese it was.
Super creamy, super cheesy, and rather fun to make. It takes a little bit more time than the Kraft version but whoa will you taste a difference (don't get me wrong, I love the fun shapes and powdered cheese stuff too!). This just takes that mac to a whole new, sophisticated level.
Creamy Stove Top Mac and Cheese
8 ounces shell pasta or other small pasta shapes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half (I used 2% milk)
2 ounces white American cheese, chopped or torn into pieces*
4 ounces extra sharp white cheddar, shredded*
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
In a large stockpot, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well.
While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and has started to bubble, whisk in the flour; cook for 1 1/2 minutes whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk until no lumps remain. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook milk mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens and bubbles, about 8 minutes.
Remove sauce pan from the heat and by the handful, stir in the cheeses allowing all of the cheese to melt into the sauce before adding more. Stir in the mustard, salt, and hot sauce. Return the sauce pan to the heat and stir in the pasta. Be sure to stir up the sauce from the bottom of the sauce pan and thoroughly coat all of the pasta with sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat until heated through.
*We currently have about seven different kinds of cheese in the house and none of them were the two I needed for this recipe. My solution: the grocery deli. They will kindly slice you the ounce amount you need, which means it's already measured come cooking time and no waste!!
Adapted from Smells Like Home.