I've got a great recipe for homemade mac & cheese that I thought I'd share with you. It's Lent, and we Catholics can't eat meat on Fridays; so if you're Catholic (or a vegetarian, or you just really like cheese) and you're looking for a great meatless main dish, this would do the trick. Just add a green salad and you've got yourself a satisfying meal.
I started with a basic recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but put my own spin on it. I thought it was too dry--not nearly cheesy enough!--so I quadrupled the cheese sauce. Then I added some extra butter and other good things. It's definitely not a diet food...but I promise you, it's to die for. If you have a big group to feed--especially a big group of hungry growing boys--it's almost sure to be a hit. I used to make this for my youngest son's high school lacrosse team potluck dinners, and those boys always attacked the casserole dish the minute it was set down on the table.
First step: you'll need 4 c. of cooked elbow macaroni (a 16 oz. box). Drain it and while it's still hot, add about 1/2 stick of butter to coat the noodles. Then throw in 1/2-3/4 c. shredded parmesan cheese. Set aside.
Make the cheese sauce: in a big saucepan (or perhaps a soup pot), melt 8 Tbsp. butter over medium heat, then add 8 Tbsp. of flour. Stir constantly while this mixture begins to bubble, cooking for about 2 minutes (make sure not to let it get brown). Pour in 4 c. of hot milk and continue stirring until the sauce thickens (about another 2 minutes). Remove from heat and throw in about 4 c. of shredded cheese. (You can use cheddar alone, but I use a mixture of cheddar and Monterrey Jack. You can really use any kind you like.) Add some salt and pepper if you wish (I usually do). Stir until you've got a big old pot of creamy, cheesy deliciousness.
Mix up the macaroni and the cheese sauce: put the buttery parmesan macaroni and the decadent cheese sauce together in a big bowl, and mix with a big spoon until all the noodles are well coated; then scoop the mixture out and spread it into a 9 x 13" glass baking dish.
Top it off: first, with a not-too-thick layer of shredded cheese (that's right--more cheese!). In a bowl, mix 1/2 stick of melted butter and one "sleeve" of crushed Ritz crackers; now sprinkle the cracker crumbs over the top of the shredded cheese.
Okay, it's time to cook your decadently cheesy masterpiece. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until you can see the cheese sauce bubbling all over the place and there's just a hint of brown crustiness at the edges of the dish.
Optional: add crisp, crumbled bacon or chunks of ham (unless of course you're Catholic and it's a Friday during Lent). Or lobster! Doesn't that sound divine? Someday I'd like to try adding lobster.
To me, this dish actually tastes even better the second time around--as leftovers, heated up in the microwave.
Enjoy, but don't get on a scale for a couple of days afterward.