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Macaroni and cheese has always been one of my very favorite foods. I prefer the baked variety with a nice crust on top instead of the creamy skillet type. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good, too! I’ve just always preferred that crunchy, browned topping. As a lifelong macaroni and cheese devotee, I was horrified with Papi Chulo told me he didn’t like it. How could you not like the most amazing food ever?! Well, it turns out that’s because he’s really only ever had Navy mac & cheese, which I’m sure resembles real, homemade macaroni and cheese goodness just about as much as Spam resembles a steak. Yuck. This dish is for him, to prove that macaroni and cheese is real food, and that it’s worth having.
So why is this called “grown-up” macaroni and cheese? Because it’s slightly spicy, deeply flavorful, and far from a bland, kids’ table creation. It has a few unique ingredients, some zing, and a special topping you’ve probably never tried before. Read on to discover more!
This recipe is for an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish, but it’s easy to double for a larger batch. Just literally double all the given ingredients. I’m more than happy to eat leftover mac & cheese for days (I even eat it cold!), but I feel bad about feeing Papi Chulo the same thing for a week and decided to go with a half batch for this recipe.
When selecting cheese for macaroni and cheese, you should always buy a whole block, not pre-shreded cheese. I know it’s a bit of a bother to shred yourself, but the pre-shreded stuff contains anti-caking agents that make it melt oddly. Plus, the shreded cheese usually has way more fillers and far less flavor than block cheese. This half recipe needs half a block each of two different cheeses. For a full batch of mac and cheese, just use a full 8 ounce block of each cheese. Shredding it is way less painful if you treat your box grater with a quick coating of cooking spray – this prevents the cheese from gumming up the grater!
- 1/2 a pound (half a box) of penne noodles
- 3.5 tablespoons tablespoons of butter, for the sauce
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 1 teaspoon of mustard powder
- 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 4 oz (1 cup) monterey or pepper jack cheese
- 4 oz (1 cup) sharp cheddar cheese
- 2.5 cups of milk
- 1/2 an onion, chopped small
- 1 tablespoon of olive
- 1 roll of Ritz crackers, broken into small pieces.
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, for the Ritz topping
Breaking up the Ritz crackers is easy if you transfer them to a freezer bag and hit them a few times with the flat of your hand or a small cooking pot. Be gentle, though – you want chunks, not a cracker powder! Until a couple of years ago, I used breadcrumbs for a topping, but the Ritz crackers add a delicious taste and texture that have me hooked. The topping is pretty popular with Papi Chulo, too! When we re-heated leftovers for day two, he insisted on making even more topping to the macaroni and cheese.
I know people use all sorts of cheeses for this dish – smoked gouda seems to be a trendy favorite right now. What’s your favorite way to customize macaroni and cheese?