Skip to recipe for Mac n' Cheese
It’s that time of year again! The air is chilled, the trees are lit, and the parties are well under way. I love holiday potlucks… it theory. In an attempt to impress my friends and steer away from the inevitable chips, dips and desserts, I always end up plotting something far too complicated. Last year, I spent an entire day in the kitchen trying (and failing) to reproduce the magnificent enchiladas I had dreamed up, only to show up at the party with something that strongly resembled brown mush with a side of guacamole. Needless to say, it was not the first dish to go.
This year, I’m determined to have a popular potluck dish. What better way to please my friends than with a dish that everyone on planet earth loves? That’s right, I’m cooking up homemade, creamy, gooey mac and cheese that will surely please even the toughest of crowds.
The trick to a good Mac n’ Cheese is…the cheese! Well actually, the cheese sauce. You need WAY MORE sauce than any of us would like to admit. Like, an awkward amount. But let’s get real- when was the last time you went to a potluck or holiday party and filled your plate with the bland quinoa salad and carrot sticks? Never. Parties are an excuse to eat the delicious and deviant dishes we feel too guilty to eat at home.
So when I say load on that cheese sauce, I really truly mean it. Channel your inner Ina Garten and do NOT be afraid to really lather up those noodles in a nice cheesy bath before sticking this puppy in the oven.
I have messed up many a mac n’ cheese in my day for a whole host of reasons. Mac and cheese truly is best served right out of the oven while the cheese is still bubbly and gooey. BUT it can be made ahead and served later if you take the necessary precautions. First and foremost, cook the pasta to al dente (slightly undercooked). That way, you won’t end up with wildly overcooked mush where the mac n’ cheese should be. Secondly, do not, I repeat, do NOT double bake this dish. If you are making ahead, there are two options. 1) Cook and store the pasta and cheese separately and only combine them when you’re ready to heat and serve. This method works, but be sure to stir the pasta with a tablespoon or two of olive oil before refrigerating. This will prevent the noodles from sticking together. 2) Cook the pasta and the sauce, let them cool completely, and then combine them and place in the baking dish. When you remove it from the fridge, heat for 20 minutes at 350ºF, then stir in 0.5-1 cup of warm milk. Return to the oven and bake for another 25 minutes. Top with bread crumbs, broil for 2-3 minutes, and then cover and keep warm until serving at the party!
This holiday potluck season, keep it simple and give the people what they want! Put those traumatizing potluck memories behind you, lace up that apron, and be prepared to WIN potluck season with this killer mac and cheese…because that’s what the holidays are all about, right?
Mac n' Cheese
Don't get fancy, just give the people what they want! Be the star of your next potluck or holiday party with this mac and cheese that checks all the boxes.
- 4 cups macaroni pasta (8 oz)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 onion grated
- 3.5 cups milk + extra
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2.5 tbsp flour
- 0.5-1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 cups sharp white cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 cup gruyere cheese shredded
- 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp parsley finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water (about 1 tbsp. of salt for 8 oz of pasta) until al dente, or until just slightly crunchy and undercooked. Drain the pasta into a colander and let cool while making the sauce. Tip: don’t keep the pasta cooling in the pot you cooked it in! It will stick to the bottom.
Warm the milk in a pot over the stove or in a microwave-safe container in the microwave until hot but not boiling (about 2.5 minutes). Set aside. Cook 1 tbsp butter and grated onion in a pan for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk the mixture together. Don’t worry if it clumps! Cook the mixture like this for one minute. Very slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking vigorously to remove the clumps. Stir in the salt, pepper, 0.5 tsp cayenne, and mustard, and let the sauce simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more cayenne, salt and pepper as needed. Take the pot off the heat and slowly whisk in the grated cheese until it is all melted and smooth.
Return the pasta to its pot and pour the sauce overtop. Stir until combined. The mixture should be creamy but still quite runny (aim for the runniness of Kraft Dinner). If too thick, slowly add about 0.5 cup more milk until you achieve the KD-like creaminess.
Pour the pasta into a 2-quart baking dish and bake for 10 minutes. In the meantime, melt 1 tbsp butter in the microwave, and stir in breadcrumbs and parsley. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly overtop and broil for 2-3 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove and serve!
*If making this dish ahead of time, cool the pasta and cheese sauce separately before combining them in the baking dish. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. When you remove it from the fridge, heat for 20 minutes at 350ºF, then stir in 0.5-1 cup of warm milk. Return to the oven and bake for another 25 minutes. Top with bread crumbs, broil for 2-3 minutes, and then cover and keep warm until serving at the potluck!