Mac and Cheese Boxed, Frozen or Homemade?

The weather in Michigan was beautiful this weekend, a beautiful preview of what fall will bring over the next few weeks.  It was perfect weather to sit out and read a book, take a walk, go to the zoo or throw a football around.

Saturday was also a great day to try out a new recipe, something from the good ole comfort food category.  I decided to make a macaroni and cheese recipe that I found on Pinterest.  Macaroni and cheese is a tough sell in our house, not because my family doesn’t like it but because I have two people who truly believe that the original and best macaroni comes in a box….

Yes, it’s true….Joshua and Papa Walt truly do believe that this little box is the one and only true Mac-n-Cheese.  I am not saying that Kraft Mac-n-Cheese is not yummy, I grew up on it for lunch.  I don’t know how or why but we always had Kraft Mac-n-Cheese served with Delmonte peas on top, warm from the can not refrigerated or heated.  Not sure where that came from.  Mom…..can you help me out???

Growing up the blue box mac-n-cheese was only for lunch….for dinner my mom made a delicious mac-n-cheese with Velveeta, milk, flour, onions and elbow noodles.  When I was young, pre-teen I remember my Aunt Carole made one that I liked but I don’t know her recipe, I’ll have to drop her a note and see if she still has the recipe.  I remember it also had elbow noodles, cheese (not sure which type), onions and milk.  I remember Aunt Carole added milk by pouring it over the casserole….my mom made a rue.  Please keep in mind this is a childhood memory, I’m 56 it could be a little lost and confused inside this head.

I, for years, made the one I learned from my mom.  It’s the one John and Nikki grew up on and the one I made for Walt several times after we were married until he told me it tasted like cheese paste.  Yes, that’s what he said, cheese paste.  This could be my fault, I probably do add a little more cheese than it calls for trying to make it a little cheesier.  Once Walt professed his dislike for it I stopped making homemade mac-n-cheese.

This past New Year’s Eve Eric (lil E) was here for a sleepover and we decided to make homemade mac-n-cheese from a new recipe.  In fact it was our first blog.  The dish turned out well, it was tasty when it was fresh out of the oven unfortunately we didn’t like it reheated.  Think it might have been the toasted bread crumbs reheated that turned us off to it reheated.

Remember this little cutie on the first post?!?  Helping grandma with the cheese!

Eric Helping Make Mac-n-Cheese
New Years Eve 2011

We’ve gone nine months without homemade mac-n-cheese until Saturday night.  I, like tons of others, have been searching Pinterest for recipes including mac-n-cheese.  I have found several and decided to try the Copycat Panera Bread’s Mac-n-Cheese.  I found it on “Moms Crazy Cooking” and followed the recipe exactly as written.  There is a note on her recipe that she found it at Smells Like Home.

For me this recipe was as easy and quick to make as pulling out a box or baking one from the freezer.  While the pasta was cooking I was able to gather what I needed for the sauce and cook it.  What was a little challenging for me was the fact that you don’t bake this recipe.  I’ve never had a homemade mac-n-cheese that wasn’t baked in the over for at least 30 minutes.

Holdout Joshua would not try it, his reasoning?  One, he just ate before he came over and two he doesn’t like noodles that look like shells.  How do you argue with that.

Walt tried it, fraidy cat that he is, he only took a small amount IN A PAMPERED CHEF ONE CUP BOWL!!  Yes, he did.  As Walt was eating he kind of gave a “ehhh” then proceeded to eat about 5 of those little cups full of the mac-n-cheese.  If I had false teeth they would have fallen out when he said “It’s ok I guess but nothing beats the real mac-n-cheese.”  When I asked if he was talking about Kraft in a box he said “YES!”  This man has the palate of a chef….he has been known to order the most expensive, exquisite item on the menu, how on earth can he think the box is better than homemade mac-n-cheese?

I like it and will make it again but next time I will only make a half a batch simply because a pound of pasta is way too much for us.  Of course you know me….I tweaked…..I added a little onion.  My husband and children will tell you that onions and I are very intimate…..they go into just about everything I make even if not called for in the recipe.

I have never eaten Panera’s Mac-n-Cheese so I cannot tell you if this is truly a knockoff, copycat recipe.  I can tell you that it was tasty, the Vermont White Cheddar gave it wonderful flavor.  It’s absolutely a keeper.

Panera Bread’s Stove Top Mac and Cheese

found st Smells Like Home, originally from Panera Bread
What You’ll Need
16 oz                        Pasta shells
4 tbsp                      Butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup        All-purpose flour  (I only used 1/3 cup and the sauce was thick)
2-1/2 cups              Milk or heavy cream  (I used heavy cream)
4 oz                         White American cheese, chopped or torn into pieces
8 oz                         Extra sharp white Vermont cheddar, shredded
1 tbsp                      Dijon mustard
1 tsp                        Kosher salt
1/4 tsp                    Frank’s hot sauce
  • In a large stockpot, cook pasta according to package directions.
  • Drain well.

While the pasta cooks,

  • Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.
  • When the butter has melted and has started to bubble, whisk in the flour; cook for 1-1/2 minutes whisking constantly.
  • Gradually whisk in the milk until no lumps remain.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook milk mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens and bubbles, about 8 minutes.

  • Remove sauce pan from the heat and by the handful, stir in the cheeses allowing all of the cheese to melt into the sauce before adding more.
  • Stir in the mustard, salt, and hot sauce.
  • Return the sauce pan to the heat and stir in the pasta.
  • Be sure to stir up the sauce from the bottom of the sauce pan and thoroughly coat all of the pasta with sauce.
  • Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat until heated through.


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