There are basically two ways to make from scratch Mac & Cheese, that I know of, at least. The easiest is the oldest style, the way my Nannie (Grandmother) made it which was pasta, cheese, and milk. The end. Fabulous! Truly. (Recipe for Purist Mac & Cheese)
The second way, which most people are more familiar with is by making a cheese sauce by way of a traditional white sauce and it is also fabulous. To me, the recipes aren't in competition, I just pick the dish that best meets my needs.
When I'm at home cooking for just us I tend to use the first method because I have a little more control over the circumstances and can dig into it hot out of the oven. When I'm looking at a potluck situation, like I am tonight, prepping pasta for my church women's auxiliary's turn to provide dinner at the Ronald McDonald House, I go with the white/cheese sauce version which preps a day or two ahead, and can be forgotten until it's time to re-heat it in the oven just prior to serving and gets even better as leftovers.
Not that the pasta/cheese/milk version doesn't make for great leftovers....if there ever were any, I mean.
I do have one little trick up my sleeve that I've never seen in other recipes and that is adding a little chicken soup base to the sauce for an extra kick. The same could be done by cooking the pasta in chicken broth but pouring out all that broth out after the pasta cooks hurts my little chicken broth-loving heart too much so I simply stir in a little soup base or comparable bouillon paste. I use any of these four labels: L.B. Jameson's Chicken Soup Base, Tone's Chicken Base, Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base, or McCormick Chicken Base.
This recipe also works wonderfully for freezer meals. Just make and divide into two or three freezer containers depending on the size that works best for your needs. Even better, add chopped cooked chicken and frozen peas, and you have easy dinners ready to bake. Also, the recipe can also be easily cut in half.
Potluck Creamy Mac & Cheese
Recipe by Glenna Anderson Muse
1 lb (dry) Penne (or Elbows or Shells)
1 stick Butter
2 Tbsp Jameson's Chicken Soup Base (leveled, not heaping full)
1 cup All-purpose Flour
3 cups 2% Milk (or whole milk if you prefer)
2 tsp ground Black Pepper
16 oz Shredded Cheddar cheese (Medium, Sharp, or Cheddar/Monterrey mix, depending on your taste)
Optional: 1/4 cup bread crumbs
1) In a large soup pot 3/4 full of water (no salt due to the salt in the chicken base in the sauce) , bring to rolling boil. Stir in pasta and boil until al dente. Do not overcook since recipe is designed to make ahead and then re-heat in the oven prior to serving which will finish cooking the pasta.
2) Carefully pour hot pasta into colander and rinse with cool water to stop cooking. Let drain while making sauce.
3) In the same large soup pot, melt the butter over low heat.
4) With a whisk, stir in the chicken soup base and the flour. Cook for 1 minute while continuously stirring to cook out the dry flour taste.
5) While continuing to stir with one hand, slowly pour the milk in to the pot, whisking the sauce smooth as you go. Add ground black pepper.
6) Continue to simmer and stir, over medium low heat (you can turn the heat up just a bit after all the ingredients are mixed in and smooth) until sauce thickens and coats sides of pan and whisk. With a wooden spoon (easier) stir in all but 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Stir! Stir! Stir! until it's all melty and creamy.
7) Carefully pour the pasta back into the pot with the sauce and combine until all the pasta is coated nicely. Turn into a 9" x 13" casserole dish (or an equal volume foil disposable pan that has been cooking spray coated). Top with remaining cup of cheese and the breadcrumbs.
Can be placed into the fridge and baked later up to 3-4 days or frozen at this point for up to 1 month.
To Bake: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes if baked immediately, 40-50 minutes if room temp, and 45-55 if taken from fridge to stove. When heated through, cheese on top will be melted, brown, and bubbly.
And don't forget the little taste test for the cook: