When it comes to food, my Uncle Jack has, what you may call, refined tastes. Though he enjoys reading this blog, he’d be the first to admit that most of my dishes are not his cup of tea. Where I like my grilled cheese sandwiches with brie on ciabatta, he’s more of an American cheese on white bread kind of guy. Where I’d chose a lamb burger with tzatziki sauce, he’d order the hot dog with ketchup. Where I drool over steak smothered in bordelaise sauce with caramelized onions, he’d pick a meatloaf and mashed potatoes any day!
So, after seeing my Uncle Jack this past weekend, I decided to make a basic macaroni and cheese in his honor; a Jackaroni and Cheese, if you will. It would need to be simple, uncomplicated, and free of fancy embellishments; just a basic, delicious mac and cheese. This left me to carefully ponder my cheese selection; perhaps classic American cheese or even melty Velveeta. And then, as I was walking towards the cheese section of my grocery store, I encountered a display which settled the matter; a display for a Wisconsin cheddar cheese called Jack’s Favorite. Seriously?? Could the answer have been any more clear?? A classic Wisconsin cheddar it would be!
Once I’d settled on a cheddar cheese sauce, the rest of the dish quickly fell into place. I’d add a little chopped ham for a classic Ham and Cheese Sandwich kind of feel. A bit of cream cheese adds a nice smooth texture to any mac and cheese. Finally, I’d top the ‘ronis with good ole American cheese and a bit of bread crumbs for crunch. I used Panko bread crumbs, since it’s what I had on hand. But, something tells me that my Uncle Jack might like it with crumbled corn flakes too!
This recipe is another simple little twist on my other macaroni and cheese recipes. (Check out my Spicy Bacon Mac and Cheese or my Italian Mac and Cheese.) The recipe starts with 2 cups of milk, thickened with a roux made up 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons flour. Then, we simply mix in our desired cheeses and seasonings and combine with our pasta of choice. Easy as that.
The main differences in this recipe are due to the baking step. It’s been my experience that when you add hot macaroni to hot sauce, the macaroni will drink up the sauce during the baking time, leaving you with a tasty, but sauceless, mac and cheese. I like a creamy macaroni and cheese. Allowing the pasta and sauce to cool slightly, before combining and baking, seems to be the key to maintaining a creamy sauce.
Jackaroni and Cheese
Baked Ham and Cheese ‘Ronis
- 1 pound Pasta, cooked according to package directions
- 3 Tablespoons Butter
- 3 Tablespoons Flour
- 2 cups Milk (skim would be fine)
- 1/2 bar (4 ounces) Cream Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Cheddar Cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup Ham, chopped
- Salt and Pepper
- 6 slices American Cheese
- 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs or Crumbled Corn Flakes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Strain, rinse with cool water and set aside to cool. In a saucepan, combine butter and flour over medium heat. Cook for a couple minutes, until it forms a thin paste-like consistency. Add the milk and whisk to combine. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook for a few minutes until the milk thickens. Turn the heat down to low and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the ham. Allow the sauce to cool slightly, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the pasta into the sauce and toss to combine. Pour the mixture into a 13×9 inch baking dish. Top with the slices of American cheese. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until heated through and the top is golden brown.