Welcome to week 2! This week brings another handheld twist on a classic pasta dish that I hope you’ll all enjoy: mac and cheese cups. As I’m sure you gathered, this week’s recipe is a little more heavy duty than last week’s… it got really cold all of a sudden and I felt like I needed to make something warm and comforting to ease myself into the shorter, cooler days.
I like to call these my humble mac and cheese cups. There’s no aged gouda, truffle butter, or prosciutto in this recipe… and guess what? It’s still really, really good. I’m generally pretty spendthrift when I cook, but it’s especially important to me to keep the gameday series recipes very affordable. Hosting football Sunday should be fun, not a huge budget hit! You can find everything you need to make them at one store (but probably also in your pantry and fridge), so instead of chasing down ingredients, you’ll be prepping for friendly trash talk.
While I think these mac and cheese cups are fantastic just as the recipe states, I urge you to experiment with your own unique additions – especially if you have leftovers to use up. I will personally be making these with bacon in the very near future. You could also crumble up leftover (cooked!) burgers – beef or turkey – pulled pork, hot dogs, sausages… you get my drift. If you would serve it with mac and cheese, it will probably taste good in the mac and cheese.
The one thing in this recipe you really should not experiment with omitting is the chive garnish. These little cups are rich, and they need a fresh, clean component to round out the flavors.
One more thing: don’t pack your mac and cheese into the muffin tin wells by pressing the tops down. They look mass-produced and far less appealing when the tops are flattened. By contrast, I really love the way the noodles look when they’re allowed to fall into the cup however they slide off the spoon – it reminds me of diving into a big bowl of mac and cheese!
- 8 oz dry elbow macaroni
- 2 TBSP butter (salted or unsalted)
- 2 TBSP all purpose flour
- 1 C whole milk
- 4 oz American cheese, shredded
- 8 oz medium cheddar, shredded
- 2 TBSP finely chopped chives
- Mise en place, and read through the entire recipe.
- Cook pasta according to directions on box, but reduce boil time by 2 minutes. For example: my box instructed 9-11 minutes boil time, so I pulled my pasta after 7 minutes. This is important! If you cook the noodles to a true al-dente, you'll get mushy mac and cheese cups after they bake off in the oven. Underdoing the noodles slightly at this point ensures al-dente mac and cheese cups.
- Drain and set aside. Return the same pot to the stove over medium heat.
- Melt butter, then whisk in flour and cook until the flour is totally saturated with the butter, about 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously. This is a roux! Not as hard as you thought it would be, huh?
- Add about a quarter of the milk, whisking vigorously to try and eliminate any lumps.
- Slowly add in the rest of the milk, still whisking continuously.
- Switch to a wooden spoon and stir until the sauce thickens. It should coat the back of the spoon, and leave a bare section on the pot for a few seconds when the spoon is dragged across the bottom of the pot. This should only take another 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and turn off stove. You do not want to heat the cheese any more than the hot milk and noodles heat it, as you'll risk breaking the emulsion (and you can't fix that).
- Transfer drained pasta from the colander to the pot and stir to coat the noodles completely in the bechamel.
- Add cheese, a handful at a time, to the pot and stir to combine. Repeat until all the cheese is added and you've got a homogenous sauce mixture. It's going to be really, really thick, and this is a good thing because it means the mac and cheese will hold their cup shape after baking.
- Spoon the mac and cheese into a lightly greased muffin tin. If you use a standard muffin tin, you'll get 12 cups; a muffin tin with mini wells will get you 24 bite-sized cups. You'll need about 2 TBSP of mac and cheese to fill the standard size muffin tins - I measured mine by scooping out heaping soup-spoonfuls and gently sliding the mixture into the wells. A few bites may have been lost in the transfer process.
- At this point, you can either bake the cups or refrigerate them. DO NOT refrigerate your mac and cheese and expect to transfer it to the muffin tin at a later time. It will be too hard, and you'll end up breaking all of the noodles in the process. If you choose to bake off later, just lightly grease a sheet of tinfoil so it doesn't stick to the tops of the mac and cheese cups
- Bake at 375. If you do not refrigerate and you're using standard size muffin tins, this should only take 10-15 minutes. Mini tins should take 7-10 minutes. If you do refrigerate and bake off later, this will take 15-20 minutes for standard size, and 10-15 minutes for the minis. You're not looking for any deep browning, just cheesy, bubbling goodness.
- Let stand 10 minutes after removing from the oven. This is critical - this is the time it takes for the cups to set and hold their shape.
- If you have a small, offset spatula, use it to remove the mac and cheese cups from the pan. Otherwise, use any non-serrated knife (gently) to get the cups out.
- Garnish with the chopped chives, and enjoy!
This is a really thick mac and cheese, which is what allows it to keep it's shape after baking. If your milk mixture is thin, there's a possibility that you didn't cook your roux and milk long enough for it to thicken.