Not quite 10 years ago, I looked at a favorite childhood sidedish and tweaked it so that it was much easier to make.
One of my and my sibling's favorite meals growing up was hot dogs, baked beans and macaroni and cheese. That could get changed out to tuna/macaroni salad in the summertime but mostly it would be macaroni and cheese.
Mom did not make Kraft macaroni and cheese. I first tasted that in college and it's convenience made it a staple for my roommate and I during those years away from home. But Kraft was not real mac and cheese in my parents' house.
Dad grew up with his mother making homemade macaroni and cheese. She used good Vermot sharp cheddar as her cheese of choice and melted it down to a creamy sauce in a double boiler. I know she had to have added milk to get it to the sauce stage because I wasn't able to make it that way just by putting cubed Vermont cheddar in a double boiler.
Now, maybe I had the heat too high or maybe I kept it on the heat too long. But it never would just melt into this creamy sauce on its own. Instead I'd need to begin with a roux. A roux is made by taking a one to two ratio of butter and flour. So one tablespoon of butter for two tablespoons of flour.
Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour and stir constantly. According to the Food Network website that stirring should be in the form of a figure eight and with a wooden spoon. After three to five minutes, according to the website, the roux should puff a little.
Once a roux was ready, I'd add in milk and keep stirring until it began to thicken. Once I could see the thickening happening I would add small cubes of cheese. While I prefer a medium cheddar, Dad prefers a sharp or very sharp cheddar. Both of us prefer the Vermont cheddar although I can remember mom using a New York Sharp cheese.
So to provide both Dad and I with what we like, I usually mix the two cheeses together. That way it isn't too sharp or two mild.
I would usually already have the macaroni boiling so it is easy enough to use a spoon strainer to ladle the macaroni into the cheese sauce pan after letting most of the water drain back into the pasta pan.
This all took time and sometimes the roux would not go exactly as it should. Maybe I was a little distracted or wasn't stirring it as much as I should. Whatever the reason, it was not as it should be.
So I decided to try to make it but without the hassle of making a roux first. Trying to decide what to use to make sure the cheese became a creamy sauce, for some reason had me thinking of soup. I didn't use cheese soup because I had the cheese flavors I liked and I didn't want to mess that up. So it would have to be a different type of soup and since I wanted a creamy cheese sauce, I figured it would be best to use a cream based soup.
I finally landed on cream of mushroom soup because I didn't want chicken flavoring nor did I want potatoes or celery or other flavors going into my final dish. I wanted something that would blend well and take on the flavors of the cheddar cheeses I would use. Dad always liked mushrooms and sometimes if we ordered a pizza we'd get it with half mushrooms. To me these would always seem like rubber buttons. In trying to coax me into trying them, Dad noted that they didn't taste like anything to which I replied then why eat them. That comment though stuck with me and came to mind when I was looking for a creamy soup to cut the steps of making a good old fashioned mac and cheese dish.
The change of using cream of mushroom soup instead of a roux allows me to make a creamy mac and cheese that is ready to serve as soon as it is mixed together or after 20 minutes in the oven. It all depends on your time frame and which way you like it better.
MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 lb. box macaroni
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 percent or whole Milk
8 oz. Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Cook macaroni according to directions on the box. I tend to cook it past aldente but not mushy. So if the cook time is 9-12 minutes I'll cook it 10 minutes because putting it in the hot cheese sauce will cause it to continue to cook. Put soup in a double boiler, over medium heat (5-6 on an electric cooktop), use the soup can to add about half to three-quarters of a can of milk. Stir or whisk until smooth. Take a block of cheese and cut it into small cubes. Or you can shred the cheese to make it melt faster. Once the soup is heated begin adding the cheese. After adding about 4 oz. (half of an 8 oz. block) and letting it melt into the "soup mixture," do a taste test to see if the sauce is cheesy enough. If not, add a little more until it suits your taste. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce if your double boiler is large enough. Otherwise, place the macaroni in a baking dish and pour the sauce over it. Mix so that all the macaroni is covered. It can be served at this point giving you a creamy mac and cheese dish. Or topped with bread crumbs mixed with melted butter and placed in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Either way is quite tasty.
To make this dish a little different I sometimes add some mixed vegetables to the sauce and pair the mac and cheese with meatloaf. Or to make it a one dish meal, I add the veggies and a can of tuna fish so it's almost like a version of tuna casserole.
Whatever your taste, this basic mac and cheese can be changed to satisfy it.