As a child, my favorite food was undoubtedly macaroni and cheese. In high school, I survived by eating the Kraft version for dinner while my mom worked (which still holds a special place in my heart, mystery ingredients and orange food coloring be damned).
But there is nothing like gooey, creamy, homemade mac ‘n cheese – except for the kind that’s easy to make and you don’t have to wait an hour for. My mother-in-law has the BEST baked macaroni and cheese recipe, but we’re impatient and also poor planners during the workweek, so this stovetop version is where it’s at. Whether or not you’re giving up meat this Lenten season, this stovetop macaroni and cheese will fill your belly with comfort food joy.
- Two cups uncooked pasta – I used mini shells but wagon wheels are also a good choice. 🙂
- 1/2 pound of sliced Land ‘O Lakes Deli American cheese (buy at the deli counter and ask for paper between each slice to make your life easier)
- Milk – enough to cover the pasta when it’s in the pot, so ~two cups.
- Mustard Powder, salt, and pepper to taste (optional)
- Grab a sauce pot. Not the giant “I’m making twelve jars of homemade spaghetti sauce” kind, but a simple, small version. Big enough to fit all of your ingredients.
- Dump your uncooked pasta in said sauce pot.
- Pour enough milk in the pot to cover your pasta. That’s right – you cook the shells right in the milk, instead of water. And you DO NOT DRAIN, so make sure that there really is enough milk to completely cover your pasta. Don’t be stingy.
- Turn the heat to medium, and cook until your pasta is tender. Depending on the type, this could take 10-15 minutes. Use a fork to taste test if need be. I will occasionally stir to make sure that the milk isn’t burning and sticking to the bottom. If it does this or starts to get scummy on top, turn the heat down.
- Once your pasta is cooked, DO NOT DRAIN IT. There should be enough milk leftover that you can create a creamy sauce with it. If most of the milk boiled away, add a few tablespoons.
- Take a slice of cheese, and tear it into four sections, putting each section in the pot. Stir it into your pasta.
- Keep repeating Step 6 until you are either satisfied with the way your sauce is looking (you may like thin or thick mac ‘n cheese), or until you run out of cheese. I usually run out. The cheesier, the better! A few tips:
- Keep stirring after adding each new slice. Sometimes I get impatient and throw in three at a time. Then I end up with a goopy ball of half melted cheese; this doesn’t work. You really do need to add one at a time and keep stirring so the milk and the cheese combine to coat the pasta.
- If your sauce is getting too thick, but you don’t think it’s cheesy enough, add more milk to thin it out.
- I spend maybe ten minutes stirring, if that. It feels a lot longer while you’re doing it, but it’s not. The warm pasta and milk melt the cheese quickly.
- Taste test as you go. Like I said, I’m a fan of every noodle being covered in thick cheese; my husband, however, thinks I put too much cheese in this dish. To each their own! (He’s less Italian than me, so I chalk this utter nonsense up to that).
- Once you find the magical combination of milk-to-cheese ratio, add a dash of salt and pepper, if you wish. I like to spice this up with about 1/2 teaspoon of mustard powder. I’ve also used cayenne pepper to give it a kick, which is delicious! There are a lot of combinations you can create with this dinner idea. I like the classic American cheese, but gouda also is delicious if you feel like being fancy pants.
That’s it! Stirring on the stove is about all the talent you need to create homemade macaroni and cheese. If you have leftovers, you can microwave, but add about a tablespoon of milk per each cup of leftover cooked macaroni you have. This will loosen it up in the microwave and make it creamy again. I microwave for 45 seconds, stir, and repeat. It doesn’t take longer than two minutes to reheat.
Sometimes we eat this as a side dish, and sometimes a big old bowl is what’s for dinner. Russell likes to eat homemade apple sauce with his macaroni, a tradition his family started. I have to admit, the combination is good. Nothing like comfort food to warm up this dreary winter!