I will start by telling you what this recipe is, before I bring up what it is not: It is delicious. It is comforting. It is decadent. It is cheesy. It is the best macaroni recipe I have ever tasted! What it most definitely is NOT, however, is low-calorie! (My blog isn't called 'Straight to the Hips, Baby' for nothing!)
I have searched for the perfect baked macaroni & cheese recipe for what seems like ages. I have come close, but most of the time the baked pasta comes out either too dry, or too greasy. I've been doing some recipe research for inspiration, and Martha Stewart has a beautiful version that was my go-to mac & cheese, at least until I started playing around a bit more in the kitchen.
That is when I cobbled together this Cheddar & Beer Macaroni & Cheese (with Cauliflower!). I will modestly say that this is one of the best I've ever had. Featuring a rich and creamy cheese sauce made with a basic roux, and combined with three types of cheeses.
This baked macaroni and cheese was so good, there wasn't any left over for my lunch the next day! Everyone in the family went back for seconds (and for some, thirds). Try this recipe out, you will most definitely not regret it!
Cheddar & Beer Macaroni & Cheese (with Cauliflower)
2 cups of large shell pasta (I used Barilla large shells this time)
1 1/2 cups cauliflower florets
6 ounces of yellow cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces of monterey jack cheese, shredded
2 ounces aged parmesan, finely shredded
1 cup of milk
1 cup of amber ale (I love Sleeman's Honey Brown Ale from Canada)
1/2 cup unseasoned panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch ground cayenne pepper
generous pinch kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 375F, and butter a medium sized baking dish. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil and cook the pasta 2 minutes under what the box directions advise (12 minutes for the large shells in my case). Once cooked, drain and put aside.
While the pasta water is heating, place a medium sized pot with two inches of water to boil over high heat. Wash and trim the cauliflower into small florets. Once the medium pot of water has come to a boil, drop the cauliflower in and cook until tender (not mushy!), about 8-10 minutes. Drain and put aside.
Shred your cheeses and reserve.
In a large dutch oven or saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter on medium high heat, until frothy. Add the flour and stir with a whisk or wooden spoon constantly. Cook until the paste turns an almost nut-brown. This is your roux. (if you don't get the right color, the flour will taste uncooked!)
Once the roux is cooked, immediately add in the milk and beer. Continue stirring and cook for 3-5 minutes. The mix will thicken slightly. Add in the spices. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the cheeses. Continue to stir until smooth. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Combine the cooked pasta and cauliflower with the cheddar beer sauce. Pour the macaroni and cheese into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs over the top evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly. I like to finish it under the broiler for a minute or two, to give it a bit more color and crunch on top. Be careful not to burn the breadcrumbs!