I have what you would call an unhealthy obsession with mac and cheese. Creamy mac and cheese to be precise -- and uber cheesy.
My husband constantly makes fun of me because no matter what restaurant we go to -- no matter which diet I am on -- I will ALWAYS at least taste their mac and cheese. And I am saddened to say that most of the time I am severely and utterly disappointed.
Bad mac and cheese is like a disease that very few restaurants can escape. It's either:
- Too salty
- Not creamy
- Too creamy
- Not cheesy
- Too cheesy
- Too clumpy
I can go on and on and on. The possibilities for bad mac and cheese are endless. But good mac and cheese … good, perfectly creamy mac and cheese is my favorite. And sadly the only place that I have ever found it was at overly fancy steak place downtown. It happened to also be an overly expensive steak restaurant with an overly fancy lobster mac and cheese with truffle oil.
And while I understand most of you have just started to salivate just from the sound of this, I on the other hand, only wanted the creamy mac and cheese. And like the insane person that I am, I asked for it without the lobster and truffle oil. And yes, the waiter and my husband stared at me precisely the same way you are staring at me now -- as if I had lost my marbles. Sue me… I am a simple girl.
When this simplified mac and cheese arrived, I was in heaven. It was done JUST right: super creamy, cheesy and the pasta was marvelously al dente. It was the ultimate creamy mac and cheese. I had found the winner and it had to be replicated.
I knew the proper way to make a heavenly mac and cheese. It required a roux, two pots and most importantly -- time. Time that I never seemed to have. And when I decided that this year my ultimate mac and cheese would show its face at my and my cousin's Thanksgiving extravaganza, I knew that I needed a way to make my ultimate creamy mac and cheese a simplified and shortened one-pot meal.
Enter this gloriously cheesy, creamy, one-pot 20-minute mac and cheese. I first saw it in one of those short videos from Food Network on my Facebook feed. Everything -- pasta included -- was made in one pot.
My initial response to this idea was not a positive one. I never jumped on the one-pot pasta dish bandwagon because I never liked the results. They were never JUSSSSSST right.
But against all inner protests, I decided to go ahead and try it anyhow.
And I was blown away by the results! I naturally had to tweak it just a tad to guarantee perfection; I played around with the proportions and added the steps that seemed to be missing to create the perfect creamy mac and cheese. My results were (as Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say) Legen……DAIRY!
There are a few VERY important tips to getting this one-pot mac and cheese done in 20 minutes and in one pot and ensuring that it is just as creamy as the ones that require the pasta to be pre-cooked.
1. Do NOT use pre-shredded cheeses. The pre-shredded cheeses add in cornstarch to prevent them from clumping in the package, which ironically causes them to clump in the mac and cheese. Just buy the bulk and shred it on your own; it's way cheaper that way anyhow. I used my food processor with the shredder attachment to shred because I was also shredding for a ton more recipes that day, but you can also go ahead and use your box grater.
2. Do NOT boil the pasta. Everything is simmered. You want the pasta to slowly simmer so that it does not overcook. As soon as it is perfectly al dente, the process is done and we add in our cheeses.
3. When the pasta is perfectly al dente there should be some milk left in the pot. Do not dump that milk . The milk has a ton of the starchiness from the pasta and this, my dear friends, will help emulsify your cheesiness without leaving behind any clumpiness.
4. In a traditional mac and cheese the cheese is added slowly to the cream sauce so that it gently combines without clumping. That being said, at the very end I add in a bit of cream cheese to help cream everything out as well as a bit more milk. Again, this is done to help make the sauce become creamy without clumping.
Oh, for an added bonus … I plopped some of the creamy mac and cheese into some ramekins, added a bit more cheese and placed them under the broiler.
I do not think I can explain the amount of creaminess and cheesiness I experienced. In fact, I placed the video on Snapchat and everyone LOST THEIR DANG MINDS!
By the way, you can find me on Snapchat as mila-furman . I post tons of fun shenanigans in and out of the kitchen on there.
One-Pot Super Creamy Mac and Cheese
16 oz box elbow macaroni with grooves
5 cups milk
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 cup mozzarella
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (Don't buy pre-shredded!)
1/4 cup cream cheese
extra milk as necessary
salt and pepper as necessary
1. Place the pasta and the 5 cups of milk into a large pot.
2. Over medium/medium low heat, bring up the mixture to a nice low simmer. Make sure to stir frequently so that the pasta does not stick.
3. Once simmering, simmer for about 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is perfectly al dente. Continue stirring so that it never comes up past a slow simmer. Adjust heat as necessary to ensure the heat from staying at a temperature where the pasta simmers.
4. Once the pasta is al dente, lower the heat to the lowest setting and stir in salt, pepper, three cheeses and cream cheese. There should still be a bit more liquid in the pot remaining. This pasta water will emulsify the sauce perfectly.
5. Stir until the cheese has completely melted. If the cheese is clumping up and the sauce is not creaming out, just add a 1/4 cup of milk at a time to smooth it out.
6. Taste, season and serve immediately.
You can reheat the mac and cheese without a problem. When reheating, add in a bit of milk to smooth it out and make the sauce super creamy again.