Ridiculously Easy Macaroni and Cheese

January 21, 2010

Author Notes: On nights when we have 20 minutes to fix dinner, this is invariably what I make. Am I embarrassed to say I use individually-wrapped American cheese? Not really. This dish is so easy your kids can help you -- or even make it themselves if they're old enough.mrslarkin

Food52 Review: WHO: How do we love thee, mrslarkin? Let us count the ways.
WHAT: A no-fuss, comforting pasta that’s true to its name.
HOW: Cook pasta; melt cheese in hot cream; toss; destroy.
WHY WE LOVE IT: This pasta doesn’t pussyfoot around. And why should it? It’s mac and cheese, straight up -- just like we ate as kids, and just what we want to eat for dinner, or lunch, or midnight snacks well into the future. Don’t you dare try to fancy this up.
The Editors

Serves: 4 or more
Cook time: 20 min


  • 1 pound elbows, mini shells, mini ziti, or your favorite macaroni shape
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 to 10 slices individually-wrapped yellow American cheese (yup, the plastic-wrapped kind -- a better quality brand if you can find it, like Cabot's)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup full-fat grated cheddar or cheddar blend
  • 8 slices crispy bacon, roughly chopped (optional)
In This Recipe


  1. Cook pasta to al dente. Drain. Set aside.
  2. Heat cream in same pasta pot over medium low heat. Remove plastic wrap from cheese and add to pot. Stir. Add remaining cheese and stir until melted.
  3. Taste for desired cheesiness. If not cheesy enough, add another slice or two of American cheese. If too thick, add another splash of cream.
  4. Return cooked pasta to pot and mix well with a gentle hand. Scoop into pasta bowls and serve with bacon sprinkled on top, if desired.

More Great Recipes:
Macaroni and Cheese|American|Bacon|Cheese|Grains|Milk/Cream|Serves a Crowd|Fall|Spring|Summer|Winter|Entree

Reviews (92) Questions (1)

92 Reviews

Martin October 21, 2018
It sorta tastes nice, but now I've made it thrice and it always comes out grainy. Am I stirring too much? Should I be using a whisk? Is it too hot?
Author Comment
mrslarkin October 21, 2018
Hi Martin, graininess happens to me sometimes when I use more cheddar than yellow American. And make sure cream is hot, in step 2, before adding the cheese. I use a wooden spoon to stir. Good luck!
nutcakes October 15, 2016
I woke in the middle of the night, starving after a long sleep. I do keep American cheese slices on hand, now that I've been making Fast Food Burger clones. And I had a carton of heavy cream from ice cream making. So nice not to have to make a roux, I really liked this texture with the cream base. I always have sharp cheddar and Parm. No bacon or I would have been making carbonara. Well it couldn't have been faster or easier. Like a box mix on steroids from the sharper cheddar and parm. That was fun. I am going to make this for a mac n' cheese box addict nephew. And I can't wait to see what my housemate thinks of it. Her ultimate easy dish is cooked elbows or shells in individual glass dishes mixed with sharp cheddar and splash of milk, then in the toaster oven until heated and browned. Not my fav, but it does work. Next I will try the dish I set out to make which was a Parm cream sauce pasta with a runny egg on top. Much more grown up. Final note: a pound of pasta seemed too much for the small amount of sauce so I just used 2 dry cups of elbows. It's a bit gloppy, maybe 3 cups would be better.
Sharon G. August 8, 2016
Please help me understand how the plastic-wrapped cheese slices are different from plain old cheese slices?!?!?!!?
jaxcat August 8, 2016
No difference really. Some are wrapped some aren't. American cheese is the real point.
kim August 8, 2016
Yes, there is a difference! The plastic wrapped slices are labeled "processed cheese food" --which means they are not considered real cheese by whomever governs that. The unwrapped slices are generally "real American cheese," though they are also "processed." I rarely use processed cheese, but I love American cheese for a basic grilled cheese sandwich on occasion. The plastic-wrapped stuff is weird and doesn't melt properly (in my opinion), so I buy the unwrapped.
Author Comment
mrslarkin August 8, 2016
Hi Sharon, for my recipe, I use whatever I have in the cheese drawer. Lately, it's been the American cheese from Costco (the kind that looks like a big brick of unwrapped cheese slices.)

The individual plastic wrapped slices melt really well, as does most varieties of Amrican cheese. Just make sure not to buy the fat free kind - it doesn't melt well.
dunham September 18, 2016
A lot of the "american cheese" slices and logs have sodium citrate in them, which helps emulsify the sauce (it helps keeps the cheese from separating and becoming oily when heated). I've read that some people throw in a slice of such cheese along with a fancier cheese, and others (like the folks at modernist cusine) will buy sodium citrate in powder form and add that to their cheese sauce.
Author Comment
mrslarkin September 18, 2016
Interesting!! No wonder it works so well. Thank you for sharing!
jaxcat April 18, 2016
I just made this tonight. It was just what we neede! Total comfort food.
We are living in Italy for seven months and were craving American food. I found cheese slices online at the grocer and decided to try this. The only thing I added was fresh sweet peas and a little Dijon mustard. Fabulous! This recipe will go home with me!
Mary February 28, 2016
Been doing this for years! I just add whatever other cheeses I have besides the american cheese singles I have in the fridge on that day. Comes out wonderful every time! Also to note, if you look for the Deluxe American Cheese singles you'll be buying actual cheese and not the cheese food types for slices. I usually buy the store brand and the quality has been good with all I've tried.
Courtney C. February 16, 2016
Love this - truly lives up to its title. I totally admit to being a food snob sometimes, but I really don't think you should change this recipe. I used organic American cheese, but it was still American and nothing melts quite like it. Thank you for this recipe!
Author Comment
mrslarkin February 16, 2016
You're welcome! So glad you like it, Courtney.
Sidney H. February 13, 2016
This food sounds ridiculously easy and seems very good.
Thanks for posting this on "Food 52"
Frankie August 27, 2015
I can't fathom why there would even be one negative comment, never mind the many I read here. It's really quite simple.....if you don't like the ingredients, don't make it! The site isn't called "Gourmet Food 52". I happen to love, love, love Velveeta and it has a crazy multitude of uses in cooking and is easy for people on a budget or who are not necessarily food savy. Keep your negativity to yourself or find a site that caters to your opinion. Hey, here's an idea......create your own food site and then you can just flatter yourself all day long!
fearlessem June 22, 2015
Made this a few nights ago and I thought it was really very good considering how easy and fast it is (one pot! no bechamel and potential for graininess). I particularly appreciated that this wasn't one of those one-pound-of-cheese-for-one-pound-of-pasta recipes that I just can't bring myself to make once I realize what goes into it. I replaced the heavy cream with evaporated milk and it worked great. Next time I will:
1) Increase the evaporated milk to 1 cup
2) Only use 8 slices of American cheese (I used 10 and it was a little too heavy on that flavor profile for me)
2) Replace the parmesan with more cheddar, and make sure the cheddar is extra sharp to make that flavor more prominent.
upinatum May 10, 2015
This recipe sounds amazing. What I have been using on pasta lately is "Pub Cheese" which I buy at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Super easy and tasty. Add vegetables and "done". Pub cheese is also super on hot spiralized zucchini, which I eat for lunch every day during the week.
Madelaine L. April 14, 2015
Yep, Kraft American cheese and Velveeta were staples in my house when my kids were little. They are all grown and out of the house and I don't use American slices anymore but when making Mac N Cheese, along with La Ti Da cheeses, I add some Velveeta as it melts beautifully. Don't go all gourmet cheese-snob on Mrslarkin. This is family fare. Sure, I would add some stuff like ground mustard, a pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper. But overall, kids will scoop it in their mouths with shovels.
DARLENE September 29, 2014
Yep, I didn't have any cream or even 1/2 and 1/2 on hand and tried 2% milk as that was all I had. it does work, but you have to increase the cheese slices in order to get it to thicken up. In a way, it ends up even cheesier!
NWB September 29, 2014
Would whole milk (what I have in the fridge) work in place if cream?
Author Comment
mrslarkin September 29, 2014
Hi NWB. I've never tried it with whole milk, but it might work. Let us know if you try it!
Heather S. August 28, 2014
Just made this for the third time. Crazy delicious
DARLENE July 29, 2014
I made this and it totally rocks and is super easy. Made it with Hoffman Super Sharp cheese sliced from the deli department. I have been looking for a mac and cheese recipe that doesn't have a "grainy" textured sauce like a lot of the ones requiring a béchamel sauce seem to end up for me. this is easy, fun and fantastic! Thanks Mrs. L, looking forward to more of your recipes!
Aliwaks June 30, 2014
Yay Mrs. L... American Cheese makes the best stovetop Mac & Cheese..I want this now (though I use the deli sliced kind, because I am too lazy to unwrap all the slices) ... I have been thinking about making my own processed cheese, I'll let you know how it works.
dymnyno June 30, 2014
Artisan processed cheese? I love the concept! Keep us posted on how it turns out.
Erin June 23, 2014
I'm in the same boat as tammater and blythe, no offense, I just don't get it. Plastic wrapped cheese food product (how it is obligated to be labeled where I live) makes no sense to me, the texture is sticky which is gross, the addition of actual cheese does help to combat this, but how in anyway is this easier, quicker, healthier, or in any way an improvement on boxed mac and cheese? I don't get the recipe at all. Why not just create a proper cheese sauce for you pasta? It takes less than 5 minutes to throw together, contains 4 ingredients (butter, flour, milk or cream, and cheese) and if you have a grater attachment for your food processor (best thing ever), 30 seconds to prep. This is in no way easier or better than a proper cheese sauce, nor is it cheaper (same amount of cheese in my cheese sauce, and I don't buy the extra cheese food product). I seriously just don't get it. Am dumbfounded.
Erin June 23, 2014
Just rechecked the recipe, mine has waaaay more cheese than yours. Will have to remake tonight and see. Still will hold on to the dumbfounded.
Author Comment
mrslarkin June 23, 2014
Measuring grated cheese can be tricky. Do try it again, Erin. You might like it better. When I make baked mac and cheese, I'll always make a bechamel sauce. That is some rockin' mac and cheese!

FYI, this recipe uses way less cheese than the top two mac and cheese recipes on the site. 1/4 cup of grated cheese is roughly about 1 ounce. 10 slices of american cheese (about 210 grams, sometimes less) weighs in at about 7 ounces. Including the parmigiano and the cheddar, this recipe uses about 9 ounces of cheese in total.
Sherry B. June 23, 2014
Velveeta works great - has more zip than American - a good recipe and wonderfully easy to make. Thank you!
Author Comment
mrslarkin June 23, 2014
You're welcome, Sherry. Glad you like it.
mlsparks June 22, 2014
I tried this last night and was thrilled with the result. Very similar to the way my mom used to make it and I love it. Also, the boyfriend was incredibly pleased too and gave it the highest compliments. Served it with BBQ chicken and an heirloom tomato salad. Yummy yummy, thanks for the wonderful recipe!
Author Comment
mrslarkin June 22, 2014
So glad you enjoyed it, mlsparks!
boulangere June 22, 2014
A recipe from 4 1/2 years ago, with a hilariously high sodium content, not to mention fat, not to mention no technique? This has Taste of Home written all over it.
Author Comment
mrslarkin June 22, 2014
Last time i checked, boiling, melting, stirring, mixing and scooping are techniques. Oh, and you forgot all the carbs from the pasta. :)