Win your next potluck with this killer mac and cheese

A comfort food classic for the holiday season

Win your next potluck with this killer mac and cheese

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

Serves: 8

  • 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!

Chew On This: Cheap and easy-to-make recipes

Laura Yiu shares five of her favourite recipes

Chew On This: Cheap and easy-to-make recipes

HK-Style Stir-fried Egg and Tomato

HK-style stir-fried egg and tomato. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

HK-style stir-fried egg and tomato. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

This mushy, homey delight is cooked up quickly and great for all ages. Ketchup is more of a Hong Kong dinner staple, so to get a more authentic Cantonese feel, dice the tomatoes, add in a bit more sugar, and omit the ketchup. Definitely serve with a bowl of rice.

Yield: 3-4 servings Prep: 5 mins  Cook: 5 mins

4 eggs, beaten

4 tomatoes, roughly sliced into eighths

2 tbsp ketchup

2 tsp sugar

Salt to taste (optional)

2 tbsp cooking oil

Heat one tbsp of oil in a pan at medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and sauté on high for two minutes.

Add ketchup, sugar, salt and mix to coat evenly. Sauté for another minute, then remove from heat and put the tomatoes aside in a bowl or plate.

In a clean pan, add the remaining oil at high heat.

Add the egg. Quickly scramble the egg with your spatula in a folding motion.

Before the egg has completely set, add tomatoes and combine in the same folding motion. Before the egg has completely set, turn the heat off. Serve while hot.


Dad’s Tofu Soup

Dad's tofu soup. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

Dad’s tofu soup. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

This soup makes for a fragrant accompaniment to any dinner. It’s easy to make, healthy, and delicious. If you’re feeling fancy, replace the chicken breast with thin slices of pork tenderloin. If my dad can make it, so can you.

Yield: 4 servings Prep: 5 mins Cook: 8-10 mins

2 bricks silken tofu, gently diced

1 cup coriander, roughly chopped

1 large sheet of dried, unsalted, unprocessed seaweed

1 can of chicken broth

1 cup of chicken breast, diced

1 tsp sugar

1 chicken broth mix

1 cornstarch

1 tsp oil

In a bowl, mix sugar, chicken broth mix, cornstarch, and oil.

In a pot, dilute the chicken broth with an equivalent amount of water. Bring to a boil.

Keep the heat on and add chicken, boiling for about two minutes.

Add seaweed and cook for one more minute.

When it boils again, turn the heat off and stir in coriander. Serve hot.


General TANG’s Cupboard Chicken

General TANG's Cupboard Chicken. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

General TANG’s Cupboard Chicken. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

This chicken recipe is one of the easiest marinades to make. The chili oil flakes are worth the trip to your closest Chinese supermarket; they are absolutely essential in giving your chicken the fragrant, spicy kick it deserves.

Yield: 4-5 servings Prep: 30 mins – overnight Cook: 45 minutes

2 lb chicken drumsticks

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp szechuan chili oil (with chili flakes)

¼ cup honey or sugar

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tbsp Montreal steak seasoning

1 tbsp oil

In a large food-safe mixing bowl, combine soy sauce, chili oil flakes, honey, steak seasoning, and black pepper.

Add drumsticks. Marinate in a container or large zip-lock bag for 30 minutes. For best results, marinate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Oil your baking sheet. Place drumsticks and half the marinade on the sheet. Cook the drumsticks for 35-40 minutes until the centre is no longer pink. Flip them halfway through. The soy sauce burns quickly, so if your sauce is drying up, add the remaining marinade and/or a splash of water.

Remove from oven and let it rest for five minutes. Serve hot.


10-Minute Loaded Ramen

10-minute loaded ramen. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

10-minute loaded ramen. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you can’t eat like a king. Give Mr. Noodle a facelift with some essential kitchen staples. You can customize this recipe however you want, but here’s my take:

Yield: 1 large bowl  Prep: 5 mins Cook: 5-10 mins

1 pack Paldo Gomtang Beef Flavour noodles (or whatever instant noodles you have on hand)

2 hot dogs, cut octopus-style

¼ cup frozen corn kernels

1 clove garlic, minced

1 stalk of green onion, chopped or sliced

3 button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 tbsp oil

In a pot, preheat your water for the noodles.

While the water is heating, add a half tbsp of oil to your skillet on high heat. Add garlic and mushrooms to the pan and sauté for three minutes or until tender. Stir the mushrooms often to prevent burning. Set aside.

Next, sauté the corn kernels until they defrost for about one minute. Set aside.

Make one egg sunny-side up and slightly runny. Add one tbsp of oil to the skillet at medium-high heat, and then crack the egg into the center of the oil. Turn off the heat when the egg white has become opaque and the edges are beginning to colour. Carefully loosen the edges and shake the pan gently until the egg can move freely around in the pan.

When the water is boiling and ready, cook the noodles according to the package along with the hot dogs.

Just one minute before the noodles are done, remove the pot from heat. Top with the other ingredients and garnish with green onion.

If you are serving in a separate bowl, transfer the noodles from the pot into your bowl. Then arrange the toppings as you desire. Carefully pour the soup into the bowl from the side. Serve hot.


Tater Cakes

Tater Cakes. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

Tater Cakes. Laura Yiu/THE VARSITY

You can never have too many potato recipes. Whip these tater cakes up for a chewier take on hash browns. Serve it as a side with some veggies and rice or noodles.

Yield: 1-2 large cakes Prep: 5 mins  Cook: 10 minutes

2 medium-to-large potatoes, peeled

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 stalk green onion, diced

1 tbsp oil

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp grated black pepper

3 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and minced (optional)

Sriracha sauce (optional)

Grate the potatoes with a coarse grater.

In a mixing bowl, combine cornstarch, salt, pepper, potatoes, shiitake, and green onion. Toss potatoes evenly with the mixture.

Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. Add oil and spread evenly.

Add all of the potato mixture (or half if you are making two), and turn down to medium heat. Spread and flatten the potatoes gently with a spatula until it is shaped into a pancake.

When the potatoes become slightly translucent (which should take about three minutes), loosen the edges with your spatula. When you are ready, slip the spatula underneath and flip.

Cook for another three minutes or until the potatoes are golden-brown.

Serve hot with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce.