A childhood favorite all grown up: Mature mac and cheese

This Cranberry Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese boasts whole-wheat pasta, cauliflower and sweetly grown-up cranberry cheddar for a healthier, more adult version of that childhood classic, mac n' cheese.

There’s something especially comforting and harmonious about macaroni and cheese.

Warm noodles, creamy sauce and satiating heft make mac and cheese a favorite with even the youngest eaters. Yet, for the adult who abhors the idea of doing the powdered cheese and noodle routine, the old favorite can seem a bit, well, childish.

Never fear, cheesy-pasta lovers, there are plenty of ways to elevate good ol’ mac and cheese to something a bit more grown-up and gourmet, such as by adding vegetables, herbs, bread crumbs or favorite meats.

But the biggest taste elevator of all? The cheese, of course.

We talked with three local cheese mongers to get the scoop on what cheeses are perfect for making this childhood favorite all grown-up.

Cheeses to try

Menage: Ryan Glenn, cheese department manager at The Merc, 901 Iowa, says this mixed-milk cheese from Wisconsin has the smooth and creamy texture necessary to make your mac and cheese totally dream-worthy.

Gruyere: An aged Swiss cheese, gruyere is a firm cow’s milk cheese. Mary Prager, deli/Italian manager at Hy-Vee, 4000 W. Sixth St., says it’s popular as a baking cheese and would melt beautifully over pasta.

Asadero: A tangy yellow Hispanic cheese, Asadero would mix well with mozzarella and cheddar for an especially worldly mac and cheese combo, says Glenn.

Gouda: Ryan Michael, dairy manager at Checkers Foods, 2300 La., suggests the addition of Gouda, a creamy, semi-hard cheese made of cow’s milk. Named for a town in the Netherlands, Gouda is considered sweet and fruity with a taste that matures over time.

Sharp cheddar: Glenn suggests Milton Creamery’s Prairie Breeze brand because it’s a bit sweeter and tangier than typical sharp cheddars, but still has a considerably grown-up taste.


Macaroni Sings the Blues

1 pound elbow or shell pasta, cooked al dente

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided

1/4 cup flour

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 cups grated sharp cheddar

2 1/2 cups crumbled Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue (or other blue cheese), divided

Sea salt, to taste

Ground pepper, to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish or casserole with a tablespoon of butter. In a large heavy saucepan over medium low heat, melt remaining butter. Add flour, stirring constantly, and cook 1 minute (don’t let it brown). Gradually whisk in milk. Simmer mixture at least 3 minutes, whisking often, until it thickens slightly. Reduce heat to very low, then gradually stir in cheeses, reserving 1/2 cup blue cheese, and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese melts. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne (if using). Stir in cooked pasta until well coated.

Pour mixture into buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and reserved 1/2 cup blue cheese. Bake until crumbs are browned and cheese is bubbling, about 30 minutes.

— Recipe from www.wholefoodsmarket.com.

Smoky Mac ‘n Cheese

3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (12 ounces)

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher or sea) salt

1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

8 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well drained

1/4 cup sliced green onions (4 medium)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs

2 teaspoons olive oil

Cook and drain macaroni as directed on box. Return to saucepan; cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. In 2-quart saucepan, heat whipping cream, mustard, salt and red pepper to boiling. Reduce heat; stir in cheddar cheese with wire whisk until smooth.

Pour sauce over macaroni. Stir in tomatoes and onions. Pour into baking dish. In small bowl, mix Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Stir in oil. Sprinkle over top of macaroni mixture.

Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are bubbly and top is golden brown.

Success tip: Be sure to use whipping cream when making the sauce for this decadent mac ‘n cheese. Milk or half-and-half are more likely to curdle when combined with acidic ingredients like tomatoes.

— Recipe from www.muirglen.com.

Taxed-out Mac and Cheese

1/2 pound penne pasta (cooked and drained)

1 large egg

1 cup whole milk

1 garlic clove

3/4 onion, coarsely chopped

1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

5 ounces cream cheese, crumbled

2/3 cup raw sharp cheddar, shredded (or more sharp cheddar)

1/8 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons butter

12 saltines, coarsely crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow 1-1/2 quart baking dish and add cooked macaroni.

In a blender or food processor, combine egg, milk and garlic, and process 3 seconds. Add onion, cheeses, peppers, salt and paprika, and blend 10 seconds. Turn into dish, folding into macaroni. Casserole could be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 24 hours at this point.

To bake, bring casserole close to room temperature. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Coat crackers with butter and spread over top of casserole.

Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until thick yet creamy. If top is not golden, slip under broiler for a minute. Remove from oven, let stand about 5 minutes, and serve.

— Recipe by Lynne Rossetto Kasper for www.organicvalley.coop.

Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces (2 1/3 cups) uncooked dried penne pasta

16 (3/4-ounce) slices American cheese, quartered

3/4 cup milk

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles

1/4 cup roasted red pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients in 2-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted.

Add sauce to cooked pasta; mix well to coat. Pour mixture into ungreased 2-quart casserole dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly around edges.

— Recipe from www.landolakes.com.

Cranberry Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 cups cauliflower florets (about 3/4 pound)

3 cups reduced-fat (2 percent) milk, divided

1 pound whole-wheat elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 pound cranberry cheddar, shredded (about 2 cups)

Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add cauliflower and 1 cup of the milk, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until cauliflower is very tender, about 25 minutes. Carefully transfer to a food processor and purée until smooth; set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add macaroni and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes; drain well and return empty pot to the stove. Whisk flour and remaining 2 cups milk together in the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer just until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove pot from the heat and add cheese a handful at a time, gently stirring until melted. Fold in the puréed cauliflower mixture, then stir in the macaroni and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

— Recipe from www.wholefoodsmarket.com.

Bacon and Tomato Macaroni ‘n Cheese

12 ounces (3 cups) uncooked elbow macaroni

1/4 cup butter and olive oil mix (or regular butter)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 1/2 cups milk

8 ounces (2 cups) American cheese, shredded

8 ounces (2 cups) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 medium (1 cup) tomato, seeded, chopped

4 slices (1/3 cup) crisply cooked bacon, crumbled

1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley

Crumbled bacon, if desired

Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain.

Melt butter in 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until sizzling; stir in flour, salt, nutmeg and ground red pepper. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly and very lightly browned (1 to 2 minutes). Add milk, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened (5 to 7 minutes). Add cheeses; stir until melted and sauce is smooth. Add cooked macaroni, tomato, 1/3 cup crumbled bacon and parsley; stir until well mixed.

Garnish with additional crumbled bacon, if desired.

— Recipe from www.landolakes.com.