Creamy Baked Mac & Cheese

Ooey-gooey-cheesy-goodness makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
Macaroni and cheese is one of those foods that I crave after an icky day, especially in the cold months.  Annie really got this recipe right, it’s the perfect amount of cheesiness, yet still packs some nice flavors.  And the panko bread crumb topping is delish.  This is a great stand-by recipe for mac and cheese to whip out at a moments notice.  I also love how easy it would be to prep the night before and throw in the oven on a busy weeknight for a warm and comforting meal even thought you’re short on time.

for the bread crumb topping:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried parsley
Salt and pepper

for the pasta:
1 lb. pasta, medium shells
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3½ cups milk (skim or low fat)
1 lb. colby jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and white pepper to taste

To make the bread crumb topping, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add in the panko and cook, stirring often, until the bread crumbs are golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne, cooking just fragrant, about a minute. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and milk and continue to heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

While the mixture is thickening, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until it just begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  Drain and leave in the colander.

After the sauce is bubbling and has thickened for 10 minutes, remove from the heat. Stir in the cheeses, whisking until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce.

Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a lightly greased 9 x 13″ baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumb topping. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.

*You can wrap the prepared mac & cheese with foil and store in the fridge for a day or two. Just switch the baking time to 40 minutes covered with foil and 20 minutes without the foil.*

serves: 8-10
time: 30 min prep + 35 min baking
from: Annie’s Eats

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