Ever have one of those days when you have so much scheduled that it doesn’t seem as though you’ll have time to make dinner? We thought so. Well, we’re here to help you out, because, today and tomorrow, we’ll be posting a couple of dishes that you put together in the morning, pop them in a low oven, and let them bake all day long. Come dinner time, everything is ready (there may be a little bit of work left, but not too much).
First up is just about everyone’s favorite: Mac ‘n’ Cheese. This is probably the easier of the two, and, as you’ll see, to make it, you assemble the casserole, and you’re done. The oven will be doing all the rest. This recipe comes from Cooking Slow, by Andrew Schloss, and it’s full of recipes that are just as simple as this. If you’re interested in meals like this (or even desserts, such as the overnight cheese cake), you should check it out.
Yes, the macaroni is raw when you put this together. Other things: Cheddar cheese seems as if it were made for mac ‘n’ cheese, but you can probably use something else you like or have on hand. The mustard is there to help keep the cheese from separating into globs of cheese surrounded by oil, so you probably need that. We did use the bread crumbs and thyme; we just took a couple small rolls and ran them through the food processor, along with the thyme (we looked at the prices of bread crumbs at the store; my, they’re certainly proud of stale, ground-up bread).
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 200°F. Yes, that’s right, two hundred degrees Fahrenheit. If your oven is like ours, that’s about as low as you can go.
Butter casserole. We melted the butter by placing it in a small ramekin and popping it into the microwave for about a minute. After that, we poured about a teaspoon into the casserole dish, and smeared it around. Don’t worry, we have plans for the remainder.
Layer. Make a layer of about a quarter of the macaroni, followed by about a third of the cheese, then mac, then cheese, then mac again, then cheese, and finish up with macaroni. You now have four layers of macaroni separated by three layers of cheese. Yes, it does seem strange be using uncooked pasta.
Whisk. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, mustard, salt, and black pepper. That’s it; no flour for thickening, nothing else.
Pour. Carefully pour the milk mixture over the macaroni and cheese. You don’t want it to splash all over. Once all the milk mixture is added, push down any pesky macaroni that isn’t submerged.
Crumb coat. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the mac and cheese, followed by thyme (unless, of course, you also mixed the thyme into the crumbs beforehand). Finish the crumb coating by drizzling any remaining butter over the top.
Cover. Tightly cover the mac ‘n’ cheese. If you have a lid that fits your casserole, you can use that; aluminum foil will work, too.
Bake, bake, bake. Slide the mac ‘n’ cheese into the oven (we put ours on a baking sheet in case it overflowed — it didn’t), and let it bake for 6 to 8 hours. Yes, basically all day. In the oven.
Crisp. Before serving, there’s one more thing you need to do. Remove the cover (or foil), increase the oven temperature to 450°F, and bake until the crumb coating is crisp and golden, about 15 minutes.
We will say this is really easy, but not really that much easier than making mac ‘n’ cheese the standard way. And, surprise, surprise, it turns out just like mac ‘n’ cheese. We had thought that the pasta might get gummy, or that everything would take on a glommy pasta taste, but, not so. The pasta turned out fine, cooked all the way through and tender. The cheese and milk combined and made for a nice cheesy dish, with no separating cheese. On ours, we should have let it bake at 450°F for a while longer, just to crisp up the bread crumbs a little bit more, but it was still very good, tasting no different than any other baked mac ‘n’ cheese, although it could be just a bit creamier. Overall, four stars, and we’ll be keeping it in mind for those days when we have a lot to do in the afternoon.