I cook most things by myself — I’m a kitchen lone wolf, if you will. But some recipes are simply better made by two people. Homemade macaroni and cheese is one of the most beautiful things in life, and requires teamwork.
Mac ‘n’ cheese is a deeply personal thing, since most of us grew up with it. Dad stayed at home with us kids when we were little, and we thought he was a greatly talented chef for his Kraft-macaroni-with-hot-dogs lunch special. Then Mom, who really is a good cook, started having more time at home and made us proper stovetop mac ‘n cheese. In high school, my little sister and I tried and failed many times to replicate her recipe, never understanding why our sauce clumped.
I’ve since learned that creating a smooth cheese sauce requires patience, warm milk and hand-grated cheese. Store-bought shredded cheese contains additives that keep it from clumping together enough, which will give your sauce a weird texture. These days, my roommate Elise and I combine our collective dairy products to make a big pot of deliciousness. She stirs while I shred cheese. Keep in mind, this recipe is not for the faint of heart or intolerant of lactose.
It Takes Two to Noodle: Basic Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese
2 cups cooked macaroni noodles • Lots of cheese (Yes. Lots. At least 1/2 pound of cheese. Sharp cheddar and pepper jack are best.)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup warm milk (set it out on the counter or heat it up in the microwave for a minute.)
Optional: diced jalapeno
Note: One person should stir this constantly with a whisk while the other person measures ingredients and shreds cheese. You can switch off, if you like. Ingredient person: Turn heat on low to medium. Melt butter in a pot. Add in flour. (Vocab bonus! This base is called a roux.) Add a few shakes of garlic powder and pepper. If you like a little spice in your life, you can also dice up a couple jalapeno and add them at this point.
Stir person: Stir.
Ingredient person: As roux browns and thickens, shred cheese and sprinkle some in. Then, pour in a few tablespoons of milk. Let it all melt and thicken for a few minutes, then repeat until the sauce is suitably cheesy and delicious.
Stir person: Stir.
Once your sauce suits your cheesy desires, add in the cooked macaroni noodles. We firmly believe in a high cheese-to-noodles ratio. Turn off the heat and let the noodles and cheese sit for a few minutes — yes, patience again; this is tough, I know — and then enjoy.
Makes enough for 2 to 3 people.
This article originally appeared in the Montana Kaimin on Nov. 17, 2010.