TJ’s More than Mac n Cheese

Over the last few years, I have tried to cut back on processed foods in our house, and hopefully save a few bucks on our grocery bill. One item we have completely eliminated is store-bought, boxed macaroni and cheese. Once I learned the basics on how to make a cheesy béchamel sauce, I figured out how I could customize it to fit our tastes… or whatever I had in the fridge. I also realized it doesn’t really take THAT much more time to make it from scratch. And it’s so delicious.

Below is my son’s favorite mac and cheese recipe with some different variations discussed at the end. What I make really varies on what I have in the fridge or what my son has requested that night. Sometimes I just make the mac n cheese part and serve it with some roasted chicken and a veggie. Even if you decide to leave all of the extras out, it’s still a yummy mac n cheese all on its own.

Ingredients:

Cheese Sauce:

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 2 TBS all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups of milk (we use whole milk, but skim would work)
  • 2 cups total of shredded cheese (I used mild cheddar and monterey jack)
  • 1/8 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper (you can use less if you want but I like a lot of black pepper)

Broccoli “Pesto”:

  • 1 1/2 cups of broccoli florets, lightly steamed or blanched
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp olive oil

The Rest:

  • 1 cup diced crimini mushrooms, washed
  • 1 cup chopped, cooked bacon (about 4-5 thick-cut slices)
  • 1.5 to 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken (I used 3 boneless, skinless thighs here)
  • 1/2 of a 1lb box of pasta

Directions:

1. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. What kind of pasta I use varies on what we have in the pantry. When shopping, I usually let my son choose the pasta. I have found that these varieties do really well at grabbing a hold of the cheesy sauce: rotini, elbow macaroni, shells and penne. TJ’s favorites are shells and rotini (he calls them springs!).

2. While the pasta is cooking, make your broccoli “pesto”. Now, this isn’t really required. I do this because my son doesn’t like broccoli, but he’s okay with it in a “pesto” form. If you don’t want to make it like this, then simply blanch or lightly steam your broccoli and then chop it to the size you’d like.

If you want to make it the way my son likes it, then simply add the broccoli, salt, pepper and olive oil to your food processor and pulse until it’s thoroughly chopped. Then set it aside.

3. Once your pasta is done, drain it and set it aside.

4. In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Let it cook while you continue to whisk for a couple of minutes to cook the flour.

5. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously. After you’ve added all of the milk, continue whisking and bring the mixture back to a boil to let it thicken a bit.

6. Turn the heat down to low. Add the garlic powder, smoked paprika and black pepper and whisk to combine. Then add the cheeses and whisk until it’s all melted and thoroughly mixed.

7. Taste the sauce and add any seasoning you’d like. If you are adding bacon later, then I’d recommend not adding any more salt.

8. Turn the heat off and add the cooked pasta to the sauce… or pour the sauce over the pasta in a large bowl. I cook the sauce in the same pot I cooked my pasta in, so I just add the pasta back in. Stir to combine.

9. Add the mushrooms, chicken and bacon to the pasta. Fold all of the ingredients together.

10. Add the broccoli and stir to combine. Serve!

Occasionally, my son asks for “crunchy mac n cheese.” When he does, I simply mix 1/2 a cup of Panko breadcrumbs and 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter. I pour the mac n cheese into an 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle the mixture on top. Then I stick it under the broiler for 5-7 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and delicious. Super easy!

The ingredients in this dish can vary incredibly based on what you have in your fridge and what sounds good to you and your children. It can be fun to let your kids choose what tonight’s mac n cheese will feature.

Cheese: I use cheddar, monterey jack and parmesan most often, but I also love to use gouda or fontina cheeses in place of monterey jack. I have even thrown 1/4 cup of ricotta or mascarpone cheese into the sauce if I was out of one of the other cheeses. 

Meat: Use whatever meat you have because it’s a great way to use up leftovers. I have chopped up leftover pork chops and I have used pieces of a supermarket rotisserie chicken. Heck, more than once I’ve even used Spam (yeah, I know, uber-processed!). My husband will say that bacon is a requirement though, and I have to agree.

Veggies: Broccoli and mushrooms are our first choices with this dish, but we’ve also done cauliflower or chopped, blanched spinach. My son currently loves mushrooms, so I’m embracing it for as long as it lasts. It could also be yummy if you used a variety of sautéed red peppers or even simply peas and diced carrots.

If you need to seriously hide veggies in this dish, I’d recommend butternut squash, carrots or cauliflower; cooked and puréed and you could add them to the cheese sauce. 

No matter what ingredients I use, this one always seems to get two thumbs up from my family.

Bon appetit!

TJ’s More than Mac n Cheese

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Cheese Sauce
2 TBS unsalted butter
2 TBS all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups of milk (we use whole milk, but skim would work)
2 cups total of shredded cheese (I used mild cheddar and monterey jack)
1/8 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper (you can use less if you want but I like a lot of black pepper)

Broccoli “Pesto”
1 1/2 cups of broccoli florets, lightly steamed or blanched
pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil

The Rest
1 cup diced crimini mushrooms, washed
1 cup chopped, cooked bacon (about 4-5 thick-cut slices)
1.5 to 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken (I used 3 boneless, skinless thighs here)
1/2 a box of pasta

Instructions
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
While the pasta is cooking, make your broccoli “pesto”. I do this because my son doesn’t like broccoli, but he’s okay with it in a “pesto” form. If you don’t want to make it like this, then simply blanch or lightly steam your broccoli and then chop it to the size you’d like.
If you want to make it the way my son likes it, then simply add the broccoli, salt, pepper and olive oil to your food processor and pulse until it’s thoroughly chopped. Then set it aside.
Once your pasta is done, drain it and set it aside.
In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Let it cook while you continue to whisk for a couple of minutes to cook the flour.
Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously. After you’ve added all of the milk, continue whisking and bring the mixture back to a boil.
Turn the heat down to low. Add the garlic powder, smoked paprika and black pepper and whisk to combine. Then add the cheeses and whisk until it’s all melted and thoroughly mixed.
Taste the sauce and add any seasoning you’d like. If you think it needs a little salt, then add some.
Turn the heat off and add the cooked pasta to the sauce… or pour the sauce over the pasta in a large bowl. I cook the sauce in the same pot I cooked my pasta in, so I just add the pasta back in. Stir to combine.
Add the mushrooms, chicken and bacon to the pasta. Fold all of the ingredients together.
Add the broccoli and stir to combine. Serve!

Notes
Occasionally, my son asks for “crunchy mac n cheese.” When he does, I simply mix 1/2 a cup of Panko breadcrumbs and 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter. I pour the mac n cheese into an 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle mixture on top. Then I stick it under the broiler for 5 to 7 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and delicious. Super easy!

Variations

Cheese
I use cheddar, monterey jack and parmesan most often, but I also love to use gouda or fontina cheeses in place of monterey jack. I have even thrown 1/4 cup of ricotta or mascarpone cheese into the sauce if I was out of one of the other cheeses.

Meat
Use whatever meat you have, it’s a great way to use up leftovers. I have chopped up leftover pork chops and I have used pieces a supermarket rotisserie chicken. Heck, more than once I’ve even used Spam (yeah, I know, uber-processed!). My husband will say that bacon is a requirement though, and I have to agree.

Veggies
Broccoli and mushrooms are our first choices with this dish, but we’ve also done cauliflower or chopped, blanched spinach. My son currently loves mushrooms, so I’m embracing it for as long as it lasts. It could also be yummy if you used a variety of sautéed red peppers or even simply peas and diced carrots.
If you need to seriously hide veggies in this dish, I’d recommend butternut squash, carrots or cauliflower; cooked and puréed and you could add them to the cheese sauce.

Mama Say What?! http://www.mamasaywhat.com/

5 Responses to TJ’s More than Mac n Cheese

  1. What a great mom you are and you have learned to cook! who woulda thought!

  2. This is worth a try! I so want to get my daughter off boxed mac n cheese

  3. Christina Strapp Reply

    These are some of my daughter’s favorite all cooked together. I will definitely try this for her, looks so good.

  4. Pingback: Saving Money While Raising Kids - What Works for Alex Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

  5. Pingback: Hidden Veggie Recipes Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

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