Macaroni cheese is a big favourite with all generations in our house.
When the weather is rubbish, cheesy warm deliciousness goes down well. It’s inexpensive and pretty easy to cook. I like making it, everyone else likes eating it, it’s win:win all round.
The recipe below feeds us as a family of four, with enough leftovers for at least one packed lunch (greed permitting). Macaroni cheese is also a winner with visitors, as you can put it together beforehand and just pop it in the oven when they arrive. It doesn’t work for dieters or people with gluten or dairy intolerances, but it’s warm and filling for everyone else.
Purists however should look away now. This version of macaroni cheese doesn’t just stick to cheese and pasta. I add peas, in an attempt to get extra veg into my children, bread crumbs for a crispy topping, and bacon, because: mmmmm bacon.
MEGA MACARONI CHEESE RECIPE
40g plain flour
Half a tsp mustard powder (Lasts for ages, and I also use it in cheese scones and some quiches)
100g grated cheese (I tend to use cheddar, but sometimes go wild and add some Red Leicester)
200g frozen peas (Optional)
6 slices of bacon (Optional)
1 slice of bread, grated. (Optional. It’s easier to grate bread that is a couple of days old, and handy for using up crusts.)
- Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees / 160 degrees fan / Gas Mark 4.
- Bring a pan of water up to boil on the hob, chuck in the macaroni and simmer for however many minutes it says on the packet. It’s normally about 10 minutes.
- While the pasta is cooking, get the grill on. Lay out the bacon on a grill tray, and cook it under a medium to high grill. Check after three to four minutes or so, and if it’s looking good enough to eat, turn it over and cook on the other side.
- While both pasta and bacon are cooking, start the cheese sauce. Put the butter in a pan (ideally non stick) on the hob, and melt over a medium heat.
- When the butter is melted, add the flour. Stir it in and let it cook for a minute.
- Next, add some of the milk, stirring madly into the butter and flour. Top up with extra milk, still stirring. Use a whisk if it’s looking lumpy. Gradually add all the milk, and increase the heat a bit until it’s bubbling gently.
- Now be patient. You’re waiting for the cheese sauce to thicken and rise up. Stir it from time to time, but accept that over a medium heat it might take a while.
- Check the bacon. When it’s cooked on both sides (I like it crispy), take it out from under the grill, cut off the rinds and chop into pieces.
- Check the macaroni, and drain it through a colander when it’s finished cooking. Chuck in a large ovenproof dish – I’ve used both a big rectangular ceramic dish and a round Pyrex dish.
- Check the sauce. Once it’s thickened, stir in the teaspoon of mustard powder, and take the saucepan off the heat. Stir in the grated cheese.
- Now add the bacon pieces, frozen peas and cheese sauce to the pasta dish, and stir it until everything is coated in sauce. Smoosh around to make a vaguely flat surface.
- Sprinkle the grated breadbcrumbs on top.
- Bung the whole lot in the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes to half an hour, until the breadcrumbs have gone brown and crispy. If you’re using a pyrex dish, look at the side, to check the mix is bubbling.
- If you’re making this ahead, stop before adding the breadcrumbs, and put the dish in the fridge, covered with a lid or clingfilm. Then add the breadcrumbs just before cooking, and add another 10 minutes or so to the cooking time.
- Serve. Just remember, it will be VERY hot straight out of the oven, so don’t let the children tuck in straight away.
If you don’t like bacon, peas or breadcrumbs – just leave them out. I think mega macaroni cheese tastes particularly good served with crunchy salad, but if you’re not in a salad mood, broccoli or green beans are good too.
£2.85 for the whole dish, so 47p each for six people, based on ingredients from Morrisons, as my nearest supermarket, on 9 November 2017. Leave out the bacon, and it’s just £1.75 for the whole lot.
37p for 300g of Morrisons Macroni (61p for 500gg), 23p for 40g butter (£1.45 for Morrisons Salted Butter, 250g), 1p for 40g plain flour (45p for Morrisons Savers Plain Flour, 1.5kg), 29p for 600ml milk (£1.10 for Morrisons Milk, 2.272 litres), 7p for half a tsp mustard powder (£3 for Coleman’s Mustard Powder, 113g), 60p for 100g cheese (£3 for Morrisons Medium Cheddar, 500g), 15p for 200g frozen peas (68p for Morrisons Savers Frozen Peas, 900g), £1.10 for 6 slices of bacon (£1.84 for Morrisons Back Bacon, 10 slices 300g), 3p for 1 slice of bread (50p for Morrisons Medium Sliced Wholemeal Loaf, 800g/20 slices).
I’ve been thinking about the costs of macaroni cheese, because I put a sachet of pasta ‘n’ sauce in my #FoodBankAdvent box, rather than a bag of pasta.
The trouble is, even budget cooking requires buying a whole bunch of ingredients.
Part of the reason I like this recipe is because it uses staple ingredients I normally have knocking around anyway – pasta, flour and mustard powder in the store cupboard, plus butter, cheese and milk from the fridge, and frozen peas from the freezer. Add some bacon for the mega version, and it’s good to go.
So I was shocked when I added up all the costs for this recipe.
To buy all the ingredients in the first place costs a whopping £12.63. OK, so I buy big packets of stuff like milk and cheese to bring the cost per kilo down, it’s boosted with optional extras like peas, bacon and breadcrumbs and I have loads of ingredients left over for other meals.
But if money is tight, that’s a big outlay.
In contrast, the sachet only requires adding 250ml milk and some water. It cost 60p on offer (down from £1.15) plus a few pence for milk. Maybe 80p tops.
The sachet only needs limited kitchen equipment: a saucepan, spoon and measuring jug. It’s hard to get wrong, so less risk of throwing much-needed food away. Plus, it provides a quick, putting a warm meal in just 10 minutes.
Food poverty often goes hand in hand with fuel poverty. With the sachet, you don’t have to use an oven, just a hob, which cuts on electricity costs.
For all those reasons, I put a sachet in my #FoodBankAdvent box.
The drawback is that the sachet only makes 400g of mac ‘n’ cheese. The packet claims that’s two servings, but it’s actually the same size as most macaroni cheese ready meals for one.
Meanwhile the recipe makes maybe six times more, with extra ingredients, for less than six times the money.
I’m just counting my blessings I can afford the raw ingredients, kitchen equipment and power to cook. Food for thought.
Now over to you. Do you make your own macaroni cheese? How do you keep cooking costs down?