Look, I make plenty of WW friendly pasta dishes, but holiday mac and cheese is not something I compromise on. I don’t eat it that often, I don’t overeat it, and I don’t feel bad about eating my indulgent mac and cheese. Food shouldn’t be making you feel bad, by the way.
That rant is for another time, but for now, it is all about the cheesy, carby self-love that is my indulgent mac and cheese.
I did not plan on posting this recipe, but so many people asked me for it when I did my stories for my Thanksgiving prep. You can watch me cook a whole Thanksgiving meal on my Instagram Highlights.
One day I’ll do a proper recipe and take photos, but until then, enjoy photos of various mac and cheeses over the years I apparently have made and kept on my phone.
Pick the Right Cheese
Don’t you dare put pre-shredded cheese in this mac and cheese in this. It is forbidden. Even the slightly fancier one. Nope. Indulgent mac and cheese works best with cheese you grate yourself.
Use a cheese grater for your cheese. Speaking of cheese, get some good stuff. If you want to get funky with it, Food Network has a whole article about different cheese pairings. Personally I prefer Sharp Cheddar + Mystery Cheese.
My go-to, simple mac and cheese usually relies on swiss as mystery cheese because it is not overpowering, melts wonderfully, and balances the cheddar with a slight nuttiness. This is the cheese I’d go with for
Thanksgiving--maybe add a pinch of nutmeg and some fresh thyme to tie it in and make it feel fall-ish. It’s the cheese I use when making a version of Panera Mac and Cheese at home for my girls (same basic recipe, throw in some white American Cheese too, easier on the buffalo).
Colby Jack is a close second to my favorite mystery cheese for indulgent mac and cheese. It’s got a stronger (although not overpowering) flavor that matches well with cheddar. I like this for Indulgent Mac and Cheese I’m serving with things like game day food and BBQs.
It’s just begging to be topped with pulled pork or served with buffalo chicken mixed in. If you are a fan of spice, add some extra hot sauce to your colby jack cheddar mac and cheese.
Of course, you can use any cheese you like. I find myself clearing the fridge with leftover cheese for mac and cheese after any party. One of my favorite traditions is making a cheese sauce New Years Day with the leftover New Years Eve Cheese to start my year with cheesy roasted potatoes (Yancey’s Fancy Cheddar makes a Champagne Cheddar that sort of tasted like a fancy Handi Snacks cheese and I have it every year).
American Cheese, Parmesan, Gouda, Gruyere all work so well. If your supermarket has a cheese guy, ask him for some recommendations!
Fold in the Cheese (and other techniques)
Assembling the sauce is way easier than you may think. You are going to start with melted butter and some flour. Technically, you should start with equal parts butter and flour but technically nobody will be upset with more butter.
When you mix the flour into the butter, keep the heat on medium and continuously whisk. The butter will start browning and smell nutty (think grilled cheese smell) and the roux will expand with each swipe of the whisk or wooden spoon. This is when you add your milk of choice.
You can make mac and cheese lighter using cashew milk. I do it all the time, and it’s tasty. If you are using cow milk, don’t skimp out with skim or 1%. Whole milk is my go-to for mac and cheese if not a mix of whole and ½ & ½ OR just heavy cream.
Heavy cream is incredibly good for this indulgent mac and cheese, but there is also a reason why I eventually joined WW.
When you add the milk, whisk in slowly and stir until smooth. I do this a little at a time to keep the consistency what I want. You can see what I mean on my highlights if you are more of a visual learner.
Once it is smooth, add dijon, hotsauce, and a pinch of salt. Again, I did not take pictures because I didn’t plan on posting.
Once your milk is whisked in and smooth, you’ll start folding in the cheese. First, start with the cream cheese. The cream cheese helps keep things smooth and thick and milds the cheddar is a way that makes it a hit with my kids.
You can cut calories with light cream cheese, but full fat is best. Before folding in the remaining cheese, turn the heat down low to not burn the sauce. Gently stir the cheese in with a spoon or whisk until fully melted. If it is too thick, add some more milk. It is always easier to thin out the cheese sauce than thicken it. To thicken, you’ll need more cheese.
Assemble your Indulgent Mac and Cheese
Take your dish you’ll cook your indulgent mac and cheese and butter the dish. Add your undercooked noodles and cheese to the dish and mix well. If you are worried about a mess, you can do this in a large bowl.
If you want those perfect looking cheese pulls you see on Instagram, you should add a few handfuls of shredded cheese right into the mac and cheese plus more for topping.
It is unnecessary and extra, but delicious. You can top your mac and cheese with panko bread crumbs mixed with melted butter and herbs too. I once had mac and cheese with a breading that had crushed potato chips mixed in with the panko and it was legit.
You can eat this right away if you don’t have a breadcrumb topping, bake for 20 minutes of 350, or store in the refrigerator for later. I cook mine with aluminum foil covering until heated through, then uncovered to make the top golden and bubbly. It’s mac and cheese, though. It’s delicious and hard to mess up from this point.Print
This Indulgent Mac and Cheese is something we serve at every holiday and most special events that I cook for. It is something I don't calculate in WW points because I eat it rarely, but always enjoy it. This is a flexible recipe that depends on your own preferences, budget, and event.
2 boxes of preferred pasta
8 oz Sharp Cheddar (grated)
8 oz Preferred second cheese (swiss, colby jack, etc)
8 oz Cream Cheese
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp hot sauce
5-6 cups preferred milk (whole milk recommended)
Additional optional ingredients: extra cheese for topping, nutmeg, garlic powder, paprika, panko, butter
Boil pasta in salted water. Cook pasta two minutes under al dente per box instructions if you are going to bake this. Cook it al dente if you are going to serve this immediately. If baking, butter a baking dish and add noodles.
In a separate sauce pan, add a stick of butter and melt. Whisk in flour and cook roux for 1 minute while continuously stirring. The roux will get golden brown and smell nutty like mac and cheese.
Slowly whisk in milk. Stir while pouring to make sure there are no lumps. Bring cream sauce to a boil then reduce to simmer.
Add dijon, hot sauce, and salt.
Stir in a full brick of cream cheese that is broken up into dollops. Stir until fully melted.
Add in 16 oz of cheese and stir until full mixed. If sauce is too thick, and more milk.
Taste and adjust seasoning. *here is a good place to get creative. Add thyme and nutmeg for a fall-ish flavor, some smoked paprika for smokiness, or some creol seasoning for a nice kick.
Pour cheese sauce over noodles and mix well. Add extra cheese if you’d like or even a bread crumb topping (panko bread crumbs, melted butter, parm cheese, and some herbs).
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes (or until heated through and bubbling). Remove foil and cook for another 10 minutes to get a golden crust.
Serve and enjoy.
And there you have it--indulgent mac and cheese. I promise in the future I’ll post pictures of this when I make it again, but the chaos of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and the lack of sunlight did not bode well for stopping and photographing this.