the most versatile recipe in the world

My oldest daughters (twins) will soon move out of the house and embark on adulthood. Knowing they'll be on their own soon is empowering (for them) and a teensy bit scary (for me).

One minute my girls are fiercely confident, shrugging off my attempts to assist or help and the other, they nervously ask basic 'how-do-I' questions as they begin working out the logistics of living on one's own. They've never cared to learn to cook until now and are devouring Tasty videos and requesting various items from the store.

Before the girls leave, I plan to teach them one of the most basic, inexpensive and versatile recipes on the plant: Classic Macaroni & Cheese.  

Think about it, once you know the basic recipe, you can customize it to virtually any taste.

Learn the basics (pasta + cheese + sauce)

To make macaroni and cheese from scratch, you just need a few basic ingredients:

  • Pasta
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Seasonings of your choosing (e.g. salt, pepper, a dash of hot sauce, garlic or onion powder)

Keep these staples on hand and you'll never go hungry.

Pick your pasta

 Classic Macaroni & Cheese, plain

Classic Macaroni & Cheese, plain

You can use any kind of pasta. For a classic appeal, use good old fashioned elbow macaroni. My kids love cavatappi (corkscrew), rotini and bowtie pasta. Want to get fancy? Use penne, ziti, bucatini or mafalda. 

Add some veggies

 Vegetarian-friendly Macaroni & Cheese with Fresh Roma Tomatoes & Broccoli Florets

Vegetarian-friendly Macaroni & Cheese with Fresh Roma Tomatoes & Broccoli Florets

Just about any vegetable goes with pasta and cheese. Adding broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower and/or zucchini is a great way to take mac & cheese to a whole new level. 

 Add meat such as ground beef, pulled pork, tuna or diced chicken for a heartier meal

Add meat such as ground beef, pulled pork, tuna or diced chicken for a heartier meal

Add some meat/protein

Make your mac & cheese a more hearty meal by adding cooked, diced chicken, cubed ham, tuna, ground beef or bacon. Don't eat meat? Add a soy/tofu non-meat alternative.   

Top it off

 Potato-chip topped Tuna Casserole is a comfort food classic. Crushed butter crackers (such as Ritz) also work.

Potato-chip topped Tuna Casserole is a comfort food classic. Crushed butter crackers (such as Ritz) also work.

Top your mac & cheese with a little more cheese and something crunchy, such as: seasoned breadcrumbs, crushed crackers, potato chips, french-fried onions or slivered almonds. Pop it in the oven or under the broiler to toast that tasty topping.

Bake & serve

Sure, you can serve mac & cheese straight from the saucepan, but baking it for 20-30 minutes in a 350⁰ oven sets the dish and creates a beautiful, tasty top - especially if you've added a topping.

Combinations

Master the basic recipe and you're on your way to making nearly any casserole. 

  • classic mac & cheese = flour + butter + milk + cheddar cheese + elbow macaroni
  • tuna casserole = flour + butter + milk + cheddar-jack cheese + rotini pasta + tuna + potato chips
  • beefy mac = flour + butter + milk + Velveeta + elbow macaroni + ground beef + diced tomatoes
  • baked penne = flour + butter + milk + Parmesan cheese + penne pasta + broccoli + chicken

Mac & cheese isn't just for kids. It's quite possibly, the most versatile recipe on the plant.