I love holiday potlucks — in theory. In an attempt to impress my friends and steer away from the usual 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 produce some 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 run out.
This year, I’m determined to have a popular dish, and what better way to please my friends than with a dish that all students love? So I’m cooking up a creamy, gooey, homemade mac and cheese that even the pickiest of students will devour.
This potluck season, keep it simple and give the people what they want. Put those traumatizing potluck memories behind you, lace up your apron, and be prepared to win potluck season with this killer mac and cheese.
If you’re 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 two days. When you remove it from the fridge, heat for 20 minutes at 350º F, then stir in ½ to 1 cup of warm milk. Return to the oven and bake for another 25 minutes. Top with bread crumbs, broil for two to three minutes, and then cover and keep warm until serving!
Homemade mac and cheese
Total time: 30 minutes
- 4 cups macaroni pasta (1 lb)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 onion, grated
- 3 ½ cups milk + extra as needed
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 ½ tbsp flour
- ½ to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
2. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water — use about 1 tbsp of salt for each pound 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. Don’t keep the pasta cooling in the pot you cooked it in, otherwise it will stick to the bottom!
3. Warm the milk in a pot over the stove or in a microwave-safe container in the microwave until hot but not boiling, which should take about two and a half minutes. Set aside. Cook 1 tbsp butter and grated onion in a pan for two 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.
4. Stir in the salt, pepper, ½ tsp cayenne, and mustard and let the sauce simmer over medium heat until thickened, about five to seven 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 cheddar until melted and smooth.
5. Return the pasta to the pot and pour in the sauce. Stir until combined. The mixture should be creamy but still quite runny — aim for the runniness of Kraft Dinner. If it’s too thick, slowly add about a ½ cup more milk until you achieve a runnier texture.
6. Pour the pasta into a two-quart baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.
7. Melt 1 tbsp butter and stir in breadcrumbs and parsley. Remove the pasta from the oven, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly on top, and broil for two to three minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
Remove and serve!