Mac and cheese is one of those classic meals where it seems like everyone loves it. The only thing is that all too often, most people are eating it straight out of a box, which is definitely not the healthiest version of mac and cheese out there. Most of the time, boxed mac and cheese isn’t even made with real cheese. That’s why I prefer making mine from scratch. It takes just as long as making boxed mac and cheese, but I at least know that the cheese is real, and who doesn’t want that? This recipe for make ahead mac and cheese has a few ‘secret’ ingredients that really push this recipe into the upper echelon of mac and cheese meals. It’s cheesy with a bit of spice, so definitely give this a try.
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Quick and Easy Make-Ahead Mac and Cheese
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
- Yield: 6 1x
1 pound dry elbow macaroni
5 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
5 cups milk, heated
1 tbsp yellow mustard
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups (8 oz) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 oz shredded fontina cheese or gouda cheese (optional)
1 cup crushed crackers
salt, black pepper to taste
- To cook the macaroni, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
- Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the pasta is al dente.
- Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Set aside to drain thoroughly.
- In a large saucepan melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
- Add the flour, a little at a time, whisking to incorporate.
- Add the cayenne pepper and whisk to combine.
- Gradually whisk in the heated milk.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat.
- Add the cheeses and mustard and whisk until smooth and fully melted. Set aside.
- Melt the remaining butter.
- In a bowl combine the melted butter and crushed crackers. Set aside.
- Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir well. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Transfer the pasta mixture to a 9×13 baking dish. Use a freezer-safe baking dish if you are going to freeze it.
- Sprinkle with cracker mixture.
- Set aside and let cool completely.
- Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 2 months.
- When ready to bake, remove the dish from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.
- Bake, covered, for 40- 45 minutes.
- Uncover and bake 15 minutes or until the top is golden- brown.
- Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.
- To cook the frozen mac and cheese, thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours, then bake as directed.