Baked Mac 'n' Cheese

Hi Friends!  Long time, no post here . . . holidays and blog-hackers have kicked my butt these past couple of weeks . . . but never fear, there's been lots of cooking here at casa Semi-Sweet, and I'm back on the scene to share my spoils with you.  Just in time for a long, lazy New Year weekend.

This recipe is not healthy. Not remotely. It is, however, sublimely delicious.  Young and old alike will smack their lips when you pull this pan of cheesy goodness from your oven.  Plus, you can make it ahead and then bake it off before you guests arrive, and it reheats famously . . . . seriously, what's not to love?  You can go back to your fiber cereal and vegetables on Monday.  I know I will.

Happy new year, everyone!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese (originally from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

1 stick unsalted butter (8 T.)
2 c. fresh breadcrumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. dry mustard, dissolved into 1 t. water
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
6 T. all-purpose flour
3 1/2 c. whole milk
1 3/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 lb. Colby cheese, shredded (4 c.)
8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 c.)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Melt 2 T. of the butter and toss it with 2 slices of white sandwich bread that you've processed to course crumbs in your food processor.  Set this aside.

Prepare the macaroni according to package directions, but cook only until almost tender, but still firm to the bite - you don't want it too mushy in your casserole.  Drain the macaroni and leave it in the colander so it will be quite dry when you add it to your cheese mixture.

Wipe the pasta pot dry, add the remaining 6 T. of butter and melt it over medium heat.  Stir in the garlic, mustard mixture and cayenne (if using).  Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the flour and cook until golden, about a minute.  Slowly whisk in the milk and broth.  Bring to a simmer.  Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.

Off the heat, whisk in the Colby and cheddar until completely melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the drained macaroni, breaking up any clumps, until well combined.

Pour the mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish.  If you're baking this right away, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.  If you're making this ahead, store your breadcrumbs in a baggie alongside your casserole in the fridge - cover your casserole tightly with plastic wrap - you can keep it for up to 3 days in the fridge.  Remove it from the fridge an hour before baking, and top it with the breadcrumbs before baking.

Serves 6-8.

For goodnesssake, serve a salad with this, will you??