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Dinner Tonight
Mac-n-Cheese with a Twist
February 8, 2012
By Jennifer Chandler

A blend of sharp, tangy white cheddar and sweet, nutty Gruyère round out the cheese sauce, while diced country ham and herbs take the dish to another level.


A blend of sharp, tangy white cheddar and sweet, nutty Gruyère round out the cheese sauce, while diced country ham and herbs take the dish to another level.

Unlike the boxed variety that many of us grew up on, homemade mac and cheese is a creamy delight for both the kids and grown-ups at the table.

The key to a good mac and cheese is the cheese. You need to use cheeses that offer a lot of flavor. I like to use two cheeses in my mac and cheese. First, my base is a sharp, tangy white cheddar that adds a delicious bite to the cheese sauce. Next, I throw in some Gruyère, which adds a sweet nuttiness. Great for melting, Gruyère is a firm cow's-milk cheese that hails from Switzerland and is found in most grocery stores. Freshly grated Swiss cheese is an acceptable substitute.

The twist in this mac and cheese was inspired by one of my favorite dishes at Interim Restaurant. Just as chef Jackson Kramer does with his version, I toss some diced country ham and fresh herbs into the mix. It is a touch that elevates this dish from a side to a main attraction.

Serve this comfort food favorite with a simple green salad, and you have a satisfying meal for a chilly February night.

Jennifer Chandler is the author of "Simply Salads" (Thomas Nelson, $24.99) and "Simply Suppers: Easy Comfort Food Your Whole Family Will Love" (Thomas Nelson, $24.99). She lives in East Memphis with her husband and two daughters. For more recipes and dinnertime solutions, visit cookwithjennifer.com.

Mac-n-Cheese with a Twist

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided, plus extra to grease the casserole dish

2 cups milk

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese, divided

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 lb. macaroni, cooked per package directions

1/4 lb. country ham, lightly browned on both sides and cut into small dice

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

3 thick slices crusty French bread, minced to breadcrumbs (about 3/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 21/2 -quart casserole dish with butter and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk just to a boil, then quickly remove from the heat, and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter starts to foam, add the flour and cook, whisking, until thickened, about 1 minute. While continuing to whisk, gradually add the milk. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the nutmeg, 2 cups of the cheddar cheese and cup of the Gruyère cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the macaroni into the cheese sauce and stir until well coated. Add the diced ham, thyme and parsley, and stir until well combined. Place the mixture in the casserole dish. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, the remaining cup of the cheddar cheese, the remaining cup of the Gruyère cheese, and the melted butter. Spread the bread-crumb mixture evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 6.

Cooking tip: To make a more classic mac and cheese, just omit the herbs and country ham.

Time-saving tip: I love the texture of freshly made bread crumbs, but panko bread crumbs are an acceptable "shortcut" substitute.

Source: Simply Suppers by Jennifer Chandler

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