Mac and Cheese - Tailor to Taste!

There aren't very many folks around who do not like macaroni and cheese.  I remember the "quick lunch" mom made on cold days.  Mac and cheese with a squirt of ketchup.  The one I really liked, though, was the one for dinner.  It was from scratch and I think it was the first casserole that I really wanted to learn how to make.  Warm roni surrounded by a warm, flavorful cheese sauce...and sometimes a hotdog on top!  Did anybody else's mom do that?

Times have changed and macaroni and cheese has a new with an infinite number of variations.  In this month's issue of Fine cooking, mac and cheese is a featured article.  I loved the article....a base recipe to serve as my canvas and "the pantry and freezer" were my palette!

It was dinner time and I had not made much effort to be prepared.  So, having just perused the Fine Cooking article I decided that I would make the macaroni and cheese.  Of course that was when I thought I had just the right cheese combination in the refrigerator.  Nope....somebody got there before me.  I had cheddar, gruyere and parmesan.  I had leftover ham which Mr. T was kind enough to cut into little pieces.  I had half a bag of broccoli and half a bag of peas in the freezer.  It looked as though I was going to be fairly creative.

Six Steps to Your Delicious Mac and Cheese

Step 1
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Grease the casserole dish (9 X 13) with butter.

Step 2
Make your own coarse breadcrumbs or use Panko breadcrumbs.

Step 3
Make the cheese sauce.
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk (Sadly, all I had was half and half. LOL)
Kosher salt

Base Cheese (3-5 cups)
Select one or two cheeses such as cheddar, gruyere, Monterey Jack, Havarti, gouda, etc.
Accent Cheese (I four cups basic and 1/2 cup of the accent cheese.)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, Feta, Mascarpone, etc.
Herbs and Spices (use two or three)
2 tsp Thyme, rosemary, or sage;
1/4 cup chopped parsley;
1 tsp dry mustard, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, etc.

Melt the butter in a 3-4 quart saucepan.  Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk over low heat for 3 minutes.  The butter and flour should gently bubble and froth without coloring.  Slowly add the milk, while whisking constantly.  Be sure to whisk around the edges of the pan.  Whisk until the sauce until smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream.

Raise the heat to medium and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly.  Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, for ten minutes.  Turn off the heat and gently whisk in your choices of a base cheese(s) and accent cheese, herbs and spices.  Season to taste with salt.  Keep warm.

Step 4
Cook 1 lb of your favorite pasta

Step 5
Add the cheese sauce to the drained pasta and gently stir.
Add in any additional ingredient(s) up to three cups.
Select from:  peas, broccoli, ham, mushrooms, scallions, bacon, caramelized shallots, etc.

Step 6
Transfer the mixture to the baking dish.  Evenly scatter the breadcrumbs on top.  Bake at 350° F. until the top is golden brown,  about 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.


I selected cheddar, gruyere, parmesan, ham, peas, broccoli, dried mustard, and cayenne.

Having a base recipe and being able to make it "your own" is easy way to use up odd pieces of cheese and a few leftover items!


  1. A Mac and cheese is on my January list..Thanks for your tips..and recipe..:)

  2. Wonderful to think of mac 'n cheese like a blank canvas -- like pasta salad or pizza! You're right -- no one doesn't like mac 'n cheese. My mom's specialty was cubing up cheddar, adding a 8 ounce can of tomato sauce to a half-pound of cooked roni. (No hot dogs!)

  3. Kate,
    Yes! This sounds wonderful. I shall copy and paste for another day.

  4. This is a delicious version of my favourite comfort food. I do believe it is the very first dish I ever learned to make.

  5. Excellent tutorial Kathy and your recipe sounds delicious, especially with the addition of herbs. As a kid M&C was cooked macaroni with milk and Velveeta and Longhorn cheese mixed on the stovetop. I didn't realize until I took up cooking that is was usually a casserole and even later that making a roux was the key to the cheese sauce. I still like it both baked and stove top.

  6. What a wonderful treat!
    Mary x

  7. I am going back to mac 'n cheese after not making it for years.

  8. That's a neat article - I love it when they do those, and I've already played with it too :^)

  9. I remember how my son begged me to buy mac 'n cheese in the blue box. Finally, I decided to figure out how to make my own. I've been craving mac 'n cheese, as of late, made with Gouda cheese. You made yours exactly as I would like it-- with peas, broccoli and ham. Sounds and looks perfect to me, Cathy!

  10. My family always loves it when I made mac and cheese. And it's a great way to use the last pieces of cheese in the fridge. Ham and peas are a great addition.

  11. It's everybody's favorite, no question. I do love Fine Cooking and they did a super job with this mac and cheese article. I like the addition of the herbs and spices and am smiling at your half and half comment. :)

  12. Hi, my name is Heather! Please email me when you can, I have a question about your blog!


  13. A great meal and 6 easy steps!It has been a while since I made this.....


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