I used to make macaroni and cheese several times a month. I'd gently melt some butter, spoon in the same amount of flour, then stir stir stir for a few minutes to cook out the flour-y taste. Only then would the milk be whisked in, slowly slowly slowly slowly to avoid lumps. Then more stir stir stirring to prevent burnt spots on the saucepan bottom, which give a nasty burnt flavor to the delicate beurre blanc.
After the sauce came to a delicate simmer, I would add two different cheeses, cheddar (of course) and swiss, lovingly hand-grated using the large grate holes, which are more difficult to grate on especially when there's only a small piece of cheese left to grate. I use swiss cheese because it smooths out the flavor and adds a hint of nuttiness. The kids probably never noticed all the extra work, but I felt it was worth it all to give my precious children, the loves of my life, a wholesome and nutritious meal.
... until the day they discovered Wacky Mac :(
Mac and cheese quickly became: drop butter onto hot cooked macaroni, add packet of dried orange powder, quick stir, then dump on plates. The kids would make it themselves for a late-night snack. Then leave the dirty pot and dishes in the sink for me to find in the morning. It would kill them to move one foot to the right and load the dishwasher themselves ... but I digress.
Seriously, though, mac and cheese is easy. Not fast, but easy. If the thought of grating grates on you, then go buy bagged pre-shred. An additive is added to prevent a clumping mess with in the packaging, which is why I prefer taking the couple minutes out of my life to self-shred, but even I have a bag o'pre-shred or three in the freezer for emergencies, so who am I to judge?
The following recipe is MY definitive version. What is YOUR definitive version? Let everyone know about it in the comments section. You can post a link to it, list the entire recipe, or simply let everyone in on the secret ingredient or two that makes yours shine. No prize, though, sorry. Maybe in the future when I'm as big as Shiksa in the Kitchen or The Jew and the Carrot.
Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups elbow macaroni
6 Tbl. butter, divided, plus a little more for greasing casserole
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. swiss or gruyere cheese, grated (creates more surface area which helps it melt faster)
3 cups milk (low-fat ok)
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease casserole dish and set aside.
Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain.
While macaroni is cooking, over medium heat melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in 2 quart saucepan. Whisk in flour, salt, pepper and mustard. Whisk constantly for 1 minute to cook out the flour-y taste.
Slowly stir in milk. Stir very often until mixture starts to thicken and barely comes to a simmer, then stir constantly until mixture boils.
Reduce heat. Stir in cheese, a little at a time, stirring constantly until cheese has completely melted.
Add drained macaroni to prepared casserole dish. Top with cheese sauce and gently mix together.
In a small bowl, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in microwave. Mix butter with bread crumbs, then top macaroni with buttered crumbs.
Bake, uncovered, in oven for 30 minutes, or until crumbs turn a nice golden brown.