Friday, March 2, 2012

Macaroni & Cheese with Cheesy Buttered Breadcrumb Topping

I love macaroni & cheese (who doesn't ?). But a long time ago I abandoned my attempts at making it at home.  Always disappointed in the the results of my efforts, I'd put all this time into making what promised to be everything I could ever want in this most delicious of casseroles, only to end up with a big ol' pan of overcooked noodles and grainy, stodgy cheese sauce. And forget about it making for good leftovers, because, by the next day all the liquid would absorb into the noodles and I'd be left with blown out 'macaroni and grease'. No thank you. After awhile I would only attempt home style mac & cheese while dining out, thinking "hey, there's got to be somebody out there that makes the good stuff." Sadly I have yet to find that place.

So eventually I gave up all together and started relying exclusively on the blue box. At least I could count on consistent results, and at least because it wasn't so rich I would be able to eat that more than once a year. And truth be told, I sorta have a soft place in my heart for the blue box, my favorite of all the prepackaged, processed foods. Unfortunately though for the good folks at Kraft, my New Year's resolution this year is to cut out prepackaged, processed foods. So I was back to my old quest of finding a recipe for macaroni & cheese that wouldn't be so egregiously calorie-rich that I would have to skip breakfast and lunch just to feel okay about eating it for dinner.

Over the past few years I have been seeing recipes that use a base of canned, evaporated milk. And it completely solves the curdled, grainy cheese sauce problem. Big Plus! Other big plus's, leftovers reheat beautifully (creamy not greasy), and the noodles and sauce are prepared in the same pan. I wouldn't exactly call this version of macaroni & cheese low-cal but it is definitely more a more sensible version. And hey, this is macaroni & cheese we're talking about after all, it isn't supposed to be diet food.

 Macaroni & Cheese with Cheesy Buttered Breadcrumb Topping
~serves 4~

Breadcrumb Topping:
2 T. unsalted butter 
1 1/2 c. soft, fresh breadcrumbs (about 2 slices of bread)
1/8 t. salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
2T. grated parmesan cheese

Macaroni & Cheese:
8 oz. macaroni 
1 (12 oz.) can reduced-fat evaporated milk
3/4 c. 2% milk
1/2 t. dijon mustard
pinch of celery salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt & pepper
2 t. cornstarch
8 oz. reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 c.)

1. To make the breadcrumb topping: Melt the butter in a medium skillet over low heat. Add the breadcrumbs, salt and cayenne. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring often until golden brown, 7-10 min. Transfer the toasted breadcrumbs to a plate and let cool for 3 min. Stir in the parmesan cheese, set aside.

2. To make the macaroni & cheese: Bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the macaroni and 2 t.salt. Cook, stirring often until pasta is tender. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 c. of the pasta cooking water. Leave the macaroni in the colander while preparing the sauce.   

3. Combine the evaporated milk, 1/2 c. 2% milk, dijon mustard, 1/4 t. salt, cayenne and celery salt in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk together the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 c. 2% milk, then add to the simmering sauce. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until sauce is slightly thickened.

4. Remove pan from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese until melted and smooth. Stir in the cooked macaroni. Let the macaroni sit until the sauce is thickened, 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper. You can loosen the consistancy of the mac & cheese if it becomes too thick by adding in some of the reserved pasta cooking water. Serve, sprinkling the cheesy, buttered breadcrumbs on each serving.

Recipe source: modified  from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook