After last week’s healthy mac and cheese recipe, I had an epiphany of sorts. While I will continue to test new and exciting healthy mac and cheese recipes on a regular basis, I do also need to balance healthy with ooey-gooey-sinful. So give me a sec to pull off my mac and cheese halo and pop on the mac and cheese devil’s horns instead. Yes kids, this time we’re delving deep into the barrel of sinful goodness which is mac and cheese. All the way down the West Coast, in fact, to Oakland, California: home of Homeroom.
I used to travel to Oakland on a yearly basis and if Homeroom had been in existence when I was down there, I would have lived there. Seriously. I ran calculations on their menu and realized that I could have camped out for at least two full weeks without eating the same mac and cheese twice. That is my kind of place. Oh how I wish we still ventured down to Oakland on a regular basis.
I was so happy when I came across the recipe for Homeroom’s Classic Mac & Cheese: after a quick review to make sure I had all the ingredients, I did a quick dance of joy and began to prep. I did try to make the original recipe much healthier, and honestly – it turned out so well that I don’t see why you shouldn’t do the same thing!
First, prepare the pasta (I used Barilla Plus elbow macaroni) according to package directions. Drain, then set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, prep the rest of your ingredients. Since my Parmesan was already grated, this meant simply shredding the Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar (yes, I love Tillamook and yearn for the time when I can get down there and tour the factory…) and measuring out the rest of my ingredients.
Once the pasta is drained and set aside, make the béchamel. Instead of dirtying an extra pot (hello, I wash my own dishes and if I can save a dish, I will) I measured out my fat-free milk and heated in in the microwave for a minute and a half. Next, using the pot you cooked your pasta in, melt the stick of butter (oh boy, I feel like Paula Deen!) over medium heat.
Then add the flour, whisking constantly. Keep whisking for about four minutes, until the mixture begins to turn a light golden brown. Remove from heat, and add in the warmed milk (slowly, while whisking – you’ll get to know your whisk quite well). Once you’ve incorporated the milk, return the pot to medium heat and continue to cook, whisking (you knew that was coming, right?) until the sauce thickens – about another five minutes. Stir in the salt.
Over medium heat, add the cheeses to the béchamel and stir until the cheeses are melted and everything is happy. Add the cooked pasta and stir until combined. Now comes the tough choice: do you inhale the amazing mac and cheese goodness right now, or do you take the high road and bake it off?
I went both ways (is that a bad thing to say on a blog?).
Here’s the amazing result of the stove-top version:
And taking it a step further, heat your oven to 400 degrees and Pam a baking dish. Pop the gorgeous pot of mac and cheese decadence into your baking dish and top with a half-cup of shredded Tillamook cheddar (because, of course you had an extra half-cup of cheddar just lying around) and a half-cup of Panko bread crumbs (bonus if they’re whole-wheat). Bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbly, then remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes prior to devouring.
So, what did I think? The stove-top version was aces in my book. Four and a half elbows, easily. Because I am a saucy chick and the sauce to pasta ratio was pretty damn near perfect. Not to mention the flavor!
The baked version lost a half-point simply because it lost some of its creamy texture in the baking. Yes, the bread-crumb topping was lovely, but the inherent creaminess did not survive the baking process. Official ranking: the stove-top version was amazingly creamy, the cheddar flavor shone through. The Parmesan flavor added a wonderful piquant aspect that took the mac and cheese from good to great. The baked version suffered from the baking – the piquant flavor was lost and the creaminess as well. Although, the crunch of the bread crumb topping was a nice addition.
Here’s my recipe, adapted from Homeroom.
- 4 cups fat-free milk
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 14.5 ounces Barilla Plus elbows (1 box)
- 3 cups Tillamook extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (+ an additional ½ cup if you're going to bake it)
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
- ½ cup Panko bread crumbs (only if you're going to bake it)
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, then set aside.
- While the elbows are cooking, shred the cheddar and Parmesan, if they aren't pre-shredded.
- Microwave the milk in a microwave-safe container for about 1.5 minutes to warm it.
- Using the large pot the pasta was cooked in, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk thoroughly until the roux turns a light brown color, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- While whisking constantly, slowly add the warm milk to the roux until thoroughly combined.
- Return the pot to the stove and over medium heat, continue to whisk the mixture until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt, then remove from heat.
- If you're going to bake the mac and cheese, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, then Pam a baking dish and set aside.
- Add both cheeses to the béchamel and stir until everything is melted and happy. Add the elbows and stir once again until everything is combined.
- If you're not baking the mac and cheese, serve and devour!
- If you are baking the mac and cheese, spoon the mac and cheese into the Pammed baking dish, then sprinkle the reserved ½ cup of Cheddar and ½ cup of Panko bread crumbs over the top.
- Pop into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Allow the mac and cheese to rest for five minutes after coming out of the oven.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
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