A deplorable thing happened over the course of the year, something I’m ashamed to admit. My kids got addicted to Kraft macaroni and cheese. That skinny blue box with its vibrantly yellow elbow noodles became their definition of a good lunch. Discovering the orange day-glo noodles in their thermos would result in happy squeals, spontaneous dances, and heartfelt declarations that I was the best mom in the entire world.
This did not give me the warm and fuzzies.
So I retaliated by banishing the mac and cheese, but they cried and they moped, and they said that lunch was not the same without it. Then I set out to show them real mac and cheese, filled with real milk, real butter, and a glorious mix of three cheeses, fully expecting a hardcore smackdown. Whenever they’ve encountered the real deal in restaurants, they’ve always turned their noses up at it, declaring it too cheesy, too creamy, just not mac and cheese.
But I was determined to try. I couldn’t keep on calling myself a foodie and see bright orange moustaches on my children’s faces.
I gave the cheeses some serious thought before going to work. I wanted to steer clear of processed cheeses like Velveeta, but didn’t want too strong a taste to turn off the kids. I settled on a blend of French Gruyere, Etorki and Kraft sharp cheddar. Both Gruyere and Etorki were my French contributions to the project. I only recently starting snacking and making grilled cheeses from Etorki after receiving a big chunk of it as a sample from Ile de France Cheeses, it’s a pleasant, semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese that is relatively inexpensive and can be found in many supermarkets. You’re probably more familiar with Gruyere, a classic French Swiss-style cheese that is yellow, hard and riddled with holes. And you’re undoubtedly familiar with cheddar.
I was kind of dreading grating all that cheese, but the work went more quickly than anticipated, and I found the sight of all those gently falling cheese curls oddly therapeutic, like a very beautiful and pleasantly fragrant snow. The rest of the recipe came together very quickly, filling the house with the mouth-watering smell of toasted bread crumbs, cheese, and pasta.
Thirty minutes later, it was show time. I placed the steaming casserole on the table in front of three skeptical faces. “This doesn’t look like the mac and cheese we like…” Everyone tried it, and two out of three gave it a thumbs up and had seconds. The third conceded that he didn’t hate it. Majority rules in my house. It’s official, Kraft mac and cheese has been kicked to the curb and I can now call myself a foodie mom once again.
Three Cheese Traditional Macaroni and Cheese
1 box of dried pasta in elbow shape or corkscrew Cellentani shape
6 tablespoons of salted butter
1 cup of panko breadcrumbs
3/4 cup of grated parmesan
1/4 cup of flour
3 1/2 cups of whole milk
1 1/2 cups of grated gruyere
1 1/2 cups of grated Etorki
1 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bring salted water to a boil and cook your pasta. Drain and set aside.
- Grate your cheeses in a big bowl, mixing them well together. In a separate bowl, set aside 1 1/12 cups of the grated cheeses.
- Make the roux: Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Continue cooking on medium heat for 1-2 minutes to cook away the flour taste. Voila, you have made a fancy-sounding roux.
- Now pour in the milk, whisking frequently, until it comes to a boil and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat, and fold in the cheeses, with the exception of the 1 1/2 cups you set aside. Stir until all the cheeses are melted and you have a delicious vat of cheesy sauce. Salt and pepper it according to your spice profile.
- In a large pyrex or baking dish, pour your cooked noodles and spread them out evenly. Pour the cheese sauce over it, tossing it all with a spoon so the sauce gets into all the noodle crevices.
- Spread the set aside 1 1/2 cups of cheese on top. Top with 1/2 cup of parmesan.
- In the microwave, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Fold that into the cup of breadcrumbs, tossing well to coat the breadcrumbs with butter.
- Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the noodles and cheese. Top with the remaining parmesan.
- Cook in the oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.