My Broke Kitchen

Macaroni and Cheese From Scratch: The Non-Boxed, Still Cheap Alternative

March  5, 2014

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Time to trade up microwaved pasta and glowing orange powder for real macaroni and cheese. 

In this week's installment of Unsavory Confessions of a Food Writer: Sometimes, late on a Sunday night, I will indulge in boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. And yes, I'm inevitably struck with regret, usually during the precise moment when I'm wearily tearing that packet of fluorescent orange faux cheese powder open. 

Shop the Story

I'm not turning my nose up at the boxed stuff -- I'll forever carry a torch for childhood staples and drunk dorm food -- but a few bites in, I remember that with just a half hour's worth more effort, I could be eating something infinitely more satisfying. 

Here's how to upgrade your macaroni and cheese: 

1. Crack open a beer and put on Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours." Laugh at your own "Fleetwood Mac and Cheese" joke for a few minutes. Then, really, truly listen to the lyrics of "Dreams." Get a little misty-eyed and down the rest of your beer.

2. Boil your water and cook your pasta -- it's best to stick to small shapes like elbows, bowties, or shells.  

3. Melt butter in a saucepan, then stir in flour and keep stirring the mixture until it browns slightly. Take your pan off the heat and add milk while continually whisking the two for a few minutes. Return your pan to the heat, then stir until all the contents start to thicken. 

4. Now, take your pan off the heat again and add cheese. You're going to want to start with a base of a slightly harder, grating cheese -- think cheddar or smoked Gouda. Once your pasta and cheese are combined, you can certainly add softer cheeses such as brie or goat cheese for a different flavor profile. 

5. Add your drained pasta to the completed cheese sauce and stir thoroughly. 

6. At this point, you can eat as-is, bake, or add additional vegetables or proteins. 

Here are some recipes to get you started: 

Classic Mac and Cheese 
Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese 
Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese 
Sriracha Mac and Cheese 
Kale Mac and Cheese 
Roasted Red Pepper Mac and Cheese  

Tell us: What's your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe?



See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • trampledbygeese
  • Heather Macdonald
    Heather Macdonald
  • ergringle
  • BakerMary
  • michelle_farquhar
Yes, my name rhymes.


trampledbygeese March 23, 2015
Mmmm, just made this again. FANTASTIC! BRILLIANT! DELICIOUS!

This time, I used the rind of a hardish goat cheese called caprano, mustard powder, salt and pepper. Mixed in some big chunks of goat feta, roast chicken with the pasta and a few spring garlic greens. All leftovers from earlier in the week. Scrumptious.

Thanks for the inspiring article.
Heather M. March 10, 2014
A handy tip I learned is to mix a bit of lemon juice in with your grated cheese, which keeps it from getting stringy. Also, mix some crushed garlic in with your butter until it's aromatic but not brown, then make your roux. Pour the whole mac n cheese mix in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle with Italian bread crumbs and parmesan, and bake until golden and crunch around the edges.
ergringle March 9, 2014
My favorite recipe for mac and cheese includes 12 oz. of cottage cheese, blended in food processor to which I add 1 cup Greek yogurt , 1 egg, 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 tsp. white pepper, then 8oz. shredded sharp cheddar, 8 oz. colby or jack shredded. Spoon into greased 3 qt. baking dish, top with 1/3 cup each grated Parmesan and Romano and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. paprika. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 tsp. chopped parsley to serve.
BakerMary March 9, 2014
Add dry mustard to sharpen your cheddar, also a large pinch of cayenne. Also I heat the milk in the microwave before adding it to the pan. Drizzle cream around the edge of the pan before baking, if you have some.
michelle_farquhar March 5, 2014
Add Brie or goats cheese I thought this was mac and cheese on a
kim March 5, 2014
Add in all the left over bits and pieces from your cheese drawer in the fridge! all those pieces from the last party you threw, and didn't want to throw out the brie, the stilton, the bits that were So Good! It is on a budget, frugal recycling of cheese ends and pieces you don't want to throw out.
Kate March 5, 2014
Oh man, is that...macaroni and cheese baked on a jelly roll pan/baking sheet? So the whole thing gets that awesome brown crispy thing going? Must. Have.
molly Y. March 5, 2014
step 1 forever
Marian B. March 5, 2014
RIGHT?! Molly will you come to nyc for my fleetwood mac and cheese birthday? Sponsored by Gabriella's twitter account.
Gabriella P. March 9, 2014
Ladies, yes. 1000x yes.
trampledbygeese March 23, 2015
Step 1 was awesome. Excellent music pairing for this meal.