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Mac & cheese for ultimate comfort

October 10, 2012
By ESTHER MCCOY - Food editor , The Herald-Star

One of the foods that come to mind when asked about a favorite food is macaroni and cheese, often called the ultimate comfort food.

History on the dish from the Woman's Day magazine notes that Thomas Jefferson began serving macaroni and cheese at the White House in 1802, having fallen in love with the dish when he was in Europe.

Kraft got into the act in 1937, by manufacturing a box of dried cheese and elbow macaroni that is now called our famous Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It went on to sell a million little blue boxes.

Article Photos

Macaroni and cheese — a just-right dish to chase away the cold

A new color came about called macaroni and cheese, an orange hue, when Crayola sponsored a coloring contest in 1993 and is in the large boxes of assorted color Crayola crayons.

In 2006, S'MAC, the first restaurant devoted to the dish, opened in New York City.

With the chilling winds of October swirling about the doorstep, a hot and steamy casserole of mac 'n' cheese is just right for chasing away the cold. There are healthy methods, old-fashioned baked methods, spiced-up versions, those adding meat and veggies and those using many types of cheese. Your taste is the only thing that dictates the recipe.

Here is an old-time version that is baked and bubbly from the oven. You might add buttered bread crumbs to the top to get a crunchy topping if you like.

Baked Mac 'n' Cheese

4 cups uncooked pasta, any shape or form desired

1/4 cup butter, cubed

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk, your choice of skim, 1 or 2 percent or whole

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Dash nutmeg

2 cups, 8 ounces, shredded cheddar cheese (You might make it 1 cup mild and 1 cup sharp cheese.)

1 cup cubed processed cheese, such as Velveeta

Cook pasta according to package directions. In a large saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk; stir in seasonings and Worcestershire sauce and nutmeg. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in cheeses until melted. Drain pasta and stir in cheese sauce. Transfer to an ungreased 2-quart baking dish. Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly. Makes eight servings.

Now comes a recipe for a heart-healthy macaroni and cheese. It is from Heartbeat, a magazine promoting heart- healthy lifestyles. Adding the mustard and red hot pepper sauce gives it an upbeat flavor, and it is only 173 calories, with 3.5 grams total fat for a 1/2 cup serving.

Rich and Creamy Mac and Cheese

4 ounces dried elbow macaroni

4 slices low-fat American cheese, about 3/4-ounce per slice

1/3 cup fat-free milk

2 tablespoons light tub margarine

1 teaspoon mustard

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, lowest sodium sauce available

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon red-hot pepper sauce

In a large saucepan, prepare the macaroni, using the package directions but omitting the salt and oil called for in many box recipes. Drain well in a colander. Return to the pan. Add remaining ingredients, stirring until the cheese melts. Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes to continue to thicken.

This is a macaroni dish that adds veggies to the mix, spinach and frozen peas. It is from Good Housekeeping and makes six main dish servings.

Veggie-Style Mac 'n' Cheese

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 1/4 cups low-fat milk, 1 percent

1 clove garlic, lightly crushed

12 ounces corkscrew or cavatappi pasta

Salt and pepper

12 ounces reduced-fat, 2 percent, American cheese, chopped

1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese, about 1/4 cup

10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

10 ounces frozen peas, thawed

Heat a covered 5-quart saucepot of water to boiling on high. Meanwhile, in a 4-quart saucepot, whisk cornstarch and 1/4 cup milk until smooth; add garlic and slowly whisk in remaining milk. Heat to boiling on medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Boil 2 minutes or until thickened, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add pasta and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling water. Cook 2 minutes less than the minimum time the label directs. Drain well. While pasta cooks, remove and discard garlic from milk mixture; add cheese in two batches; stirring until smooth after each batch. Stir in spinach, peas, cooked pasta and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook 2 minutes longer or until pasta is al dente, stirring often.

Ham or any type of cooked meat can be added to this macaroni dish to make it a hearty one-dish supper. It is from Taste of Home magazine and takes 30 minutes of preparation and 25 minutes of baking.



1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

4 cups fresh broccoli florets

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup cubed fully cooked ham

1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups fat-free milk

2 1/2 cups, 10 ounces, shredded cheese

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, place 1 inch of water in a large saucepan. Add broccoil. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 4-5 minutes or until crisp-tender. In a large saucepan, saute the onion, ham and red pepper in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are crisp-tender. Sprinkle with flour; stir until blended. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheese, parsley, mustard and seasonings until blended. Drain broccoli and macaroni and stir into cheese sauce. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish. It will be very full. In a small skillet, melt remaining butter and stir in bread crumbs. Sprinkle over macaroni mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through. This is 389 calories and 16 grams of fat for a 1 1/3 cup serving cup as a main dish.

Now for a wild and flavorful mac 'n' cheese dish from Better Homes and Gardens magazine. It has a healthy helping of bottled hot pepper sauce, along with the traditional cheese sauce.

Cajun Mac 'n' Cheese

3 cups dried tri-color or plain elbow macaroni, 12 ounces

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 8 ounces

4 ounces American cheese, cubed

3/4 cup chopped sweet onion

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1 cup chopped green and or red sweet peppers

12-ounce can evaporated milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons yellow mustard

2 teaspoons bottled hot-pepper sauce

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside. In a large saucepot cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Return to saucepan. Stir in cheddar and American cheeses; set aside. In a medium skillet, cook sweet onion and garlic in butter until tender. Stir in green onions and sweet peppers. Cook and stir 1 minute more; stir onion mixture into pasta-cheese mixture. Spoon into prepared baking dish; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, flour, mustard, hot pepper sauce, paprika and salt until smooth; pour evenly over pasta mixture in baking dish. Bake, covered, 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 to 20 minutes more or until bubbly and heated through. Let sand for 5 minutes before serving. Makes six servings.

This dish uses a package of ranch salad dressing in the ingredients. It is from Taste of Home magazine.

Ranch Mac 'n' Cheese

16-ounce package elbow macaroni

1 cup 2 percent milk

1/4 cup butter, cubed

1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning

1 cup, 4 ounces, shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup shredded Colby cheese

1 cup, 8 ounces, sour cream

1/2 cup crushed saltines

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook macaroni according to directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, combine the milk, butter, dressing mix and seasonings. Heat through. Stir in Monterey Jack and Colby cheeses until melted. Stir in sour cream. Drain macaroni and stir into cheese sauce with the crushed saltines. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes eight servings.

(McCoy can be contacted at

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