Macaroni and Cheese

When I was little this was my ideal meal:

hopefully followed by:

The glory of those meals, was extremely rare. My parents have always been healthy to the point of obnoxiousness, and rarely was I fed anything that wasn't homemade. But those times that I got MAC 'N CHEESE...
Oh my. I was a happy camper.

Now unfortunately, MAC 'N CHEESE from a box doesn't thrill me to my core.* Please enjoy your cheap thrills while you've got them.

Anyways, the point is, since those days, I've never eaten much macaroni and cheese. (BTW I really don't like the phrase MAC 'N CHEESE. It's obnoxious.) Sure, we've made occasional home made baked pastas that are called Macaroni and Cheese, but none of them have ever had that luscious cheesy quality that I've always longed for.

Until this:

(My camera got steamy.)

Can you say "amen?" Can you say, "I believe in Cheesus?"
Beloveds, this is THE ORIGINAL MAC 'N CHEESE. Only better, because it FEEDS YOUR SOUL.


*Dude. It's crazy how your tastes change. Also on my list of things I no longer enjoy:
Gummi Bears.
Most juices from little boxes.

Macaroni and Cheese
from The Gourmet Cookbook

This is really, really, really good, so please don't complain about the amount of cheese/cream/calorie. It's good for you. Note: I used an white Irish Cheddar, which is probably different than whatever you're going to use. I also went easy on the red pepper flakes. Finally, I ignored most of the topping ideas, and instead simply sprinkled some walnut bread crumbs. I loved the crunch. The sprinkle of bread crumbs add just that much more finesse, and really why would you want to cover the crunchiness with more cheese?
Also, eat this with your family and a salad.

For the Topping:

1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups panko (japanese bread crumbs, because you know, you just have this stuff on hand) OR coarse bread crumbs
1 cup coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar (about 4 ounces)

For Cheese Sauce and Macaroni:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 3/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about a pound)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound elbow macaroni

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400 F. Butter a3-quart shallow baking dish.
Make the topping:
Stir together butter, panko/breadcrumbs and cheese in a bowl until well combined.
Make the sauce;
Melt butter in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat. Whisk in flour and red pepper flakes and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes to make a roux. (If you don't know what a roux is, don't worry, just stir it until it looks smooth.) Whisk in milk in a slow stream, then bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Simmer, whisking occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in cream, Cheddar, mustard, salt and pepper. Remove pot from heat and cover the surface of sauce with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming.
Cook the macaroni and assemble the dish: Cook macaroni in a 6 quart pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon of salt for every quart of water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain macaroni. Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water and drain macaroni. Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl, then transfer to baking dish, (mixture will be loose).
Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni. Bake until top is golden and bubblin, 25 to 35 minutes.
Eat with a salad.