When I was little I went through a period where I would only eat Kraft macaroni and cheese. I certainly didn't know that was the worst kind to be had -- and my mother didn't even make it with butter. Grown up, I had the real thing at a restaurant and decided that it was the most delicious dish in the world. I tried many recipes but started with the "Zippy Cheese Sauce" from the original Moosewood cookbook, tweaked it, baked it and added some things. It's pretty cheap and extremely filling. And it doesn't come in a box. —ShannonDee
Slice onion into thin half-moons, and cook slowly in olive oil or butter until completely caramelized. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375.
While waiting for pasta water to boil, make a roux by melting butter in a large saucepan (use the pan from the onions to impart the taste) on medium-low heat, adding flour, and whisking thoroughly for a few minutes to remove raw flour taste.
Slowly add milk in small amounts and whisk very well to remove all lumps. Milk may be slightly heated to make this step easier, but if you go about it slowly and whisk quickly the lumps go away.
Once the white sauce becomes thick (this will take a few minutes) add seasonings -- mustard, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, garlic. Turn heat to very low and stir in grated cheese to melt. The "cheap" part of this dinner means to not blow your budget on super fancy cheese that will melt into a sauce -- but instead get a good mid-range brand of sharp cheddar. The level of orange color you will get depends on this as well, of course.
While cheese sauce is keeping warm, cook macaroni for about half the time specified in the directions. While the macaroni cooks, mix the dried breadcrumbs with a little drizzle of olive oil and dried herbs you like -- parsely, thyme, oregano, or herbs de provence can be nice. Or use Italian-style prepared crumbs-in-a-can.
Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce, along with 2/3 of your caramelized onions. Pour into a casserole dish. Top with the remaining onions and breadcrumbs. Cover with foil to bake for the first 20 minutes to ensure that the macaroni becomes fully cooked, then uncover and cook for another 10 minutes or so -- it will be hot and bubbly, and the breadcrumbs should be toasty and the onions on top will crisp.
Allow to cool so that the crumb topping sets up a bit and the cheese is slightly less volcanic. It may seem strange, but serve it with a few dashes of Tobasco or other hot sauce and the combination is divine.