“I participated in an Ambassador Program on behalf of Mom Central for the National Pasta Association. I received pasta samples and a stipend to facilitate the creation of pasta recipes as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.”
I was a young Navy wife living in Maryland when the blizzard struck in 1996. Barely 20 and even more a novice in the kitchen than I am now, I didn’t really keep a pantry stocked. I wasn’t exactly prepared for bad weather. After three days stuck indoors, we were running dangerously low on food. I was also surrounded by sick Sailors and Marines crashing on my couch. So I bundled up and journeyed across the street to the convenient store to forage for food. It took me nearly half an hour just to walk there!
When I got to the convenient store, the shelves were practically bare, as you’d expect. I looked around, begging the universe to give me something to work with. Preferably something in a box with really good directions. I found nothing. Then I saw a lonely mangled box of elbow macaroni. In the fridge section, I found a sad little bag of cheddar cheese and a block of cream cheese. I remembered reading a recipe for baked mac and cheese in a magazine, so I figured I’d try to wing it. I grabbed those ingredients and checked out.
Back home, I dug out the magazine article and realized I didn’t have half of the spices, herbs and other weird stuff it called for. So I just preheated the oven, followed the basic directions, threw the ingredients I had together and hoped for the best. I actually came out good. Over the years, I’ve made many “Storm of the Century” Mac and Cheese recipes. Basically, I wing it with what we have on hand. Since I was a vegetarian for many years, I also made this mac and cheese recipe during holidays. It made a filling meal for me and a good side dish for the meat eaters.
Baked Mac & Cheese Recipe Worthy of the Holidays
- 12-oz Elbow Macaroni (about 3/4 of a 1lb box, it doesn’t have to be exact)
- 8oz cream cheese
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Optional- 2 tablespoons Mascarpone cheese (we happened to have some here the other night so I tried it, yum!)
- Preheat oven to 350
- While oven is preheating, cook macaroni according to directions. When macaroni is about 5 minutes away from being done, start the next step.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the cream cheese, mustard butter and Mascarpone cheese. Melt over medium low heat (like 3 or 4 on the dial, not simmering, but not quite medium).
- Mix in 1.5 cups of the cheddar cheese and the milk. Stir until it is creamy.
- Drain macaroni.
- Add the drained macaroni to the cheesy mixture and stir until it’s coated. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over top.
- Transfer to a casserole dish. Bake about 10 minutes for a 13 x 9 dish, 15 minutes for a 9×9 or a round casserole dish. Check after 10 minutes though, you want the top layer of cheese melty, not hard and crusty.
That’s it! A few variations: feel free to skip the Mascarpone cheese if you don’t have it, just add a bit more cream cheese. You can also substitute sour cream. I used 2% milk, but whole milk may be even creamier. You can also add bread crumbs. Some recipes call for parsley on top for decoration. I never saw the point of wasting money on decorative things when it comes to food. I mean, the dollar spent on that parsley could buy me a whole second box of macaroni! The cream cheese is the key, though. You really do need it if you want your baked macaroni and cheese recipe to come out really creamy and not dry.
Pasta Fits the Holidays!
Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat eater, pasta fits the holidays perfectly. It compliments any meal as a side dish while acting as a main entrée for your veggie guests. Plus, it’s incredibly budget-friendly. My grandmother served spaghetti as her main dish every Christmas because it was the easiest way to feed our small army of a family. I’m pretty sure the boost from the complex carbohydrates is the only reason I managed to keep my eyes open past sunset every year! I was always so excited about Christmas morning that I’d get up in the middle of the night and read all night, then be exhausted all day long.
Need a bit of inspiration? Head over to the Pasta Fits website to find great recipes, nutritional information and cooking tips. You’ll also discover cool contests and promotions on the site. Pasta Fits is an amazing resource sponsored by the National Pasta Association. As a Pasta Fits Ambassador, I’ve learned so much from their site that I didn’t know. I may not be a culinary genius, but trust me, I have a pretty al dente grasp on pasta! Follow Pasta Fits on Facebook and Pinterest to keep up with news and find even more great recipes.
What is your favorite holiday pasta recipe? Share it in the comments! If you have a link, I’d love to check it out!