Cook pasta before mixing with sauce. It will not get tender if added uncooked.
Cook flour mixture until smooth and bubbly.
Stir constantly while making sauce, so that the flour mixture thickens the milk evenly.
Serve immediately so pasta will be creamy and not continue to soak up the sauce.
Stove-top method: Make as directed up to stirring in cheese in Step 3. Serve immediately.
Skinny version: For 10 grams of fat and 390 calories per serving, decrease butter to 2 tablespoons. Use fat-free (skim) milk and 1 1/2 cups reduced-fat Cheddar cheese.
Bacon Mac and Cheese: Stir in 2/3 cup cooked, crumbled bacon with macaroni in Step 4.
Caramelized Onion Mac and Cheese: Stir in 1 cup caramelized onions with macaroni in Step 4.
Fire-Roasted Tomato Mac and Cheese: Stir in 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika with flour in Step 2. Add 1 can (14.5 oz) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained, with macaroni in Step 4.
Lobster Mac and Cheese: Add 1/8 teaspoon each ground red pepper (cayenne) and ground nutmeg with flour in Step 2. Substitute 3/4 cup each shredded fontina and Gruyere cheese for 1 1/2 cups of the Cheddar. Stir in 2 cups cooked lobster pieces or lump crabmeat with macaroni in Step 4.
Southwest Mac and Cheese: Omit ground mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Add 2 teaspoons ground ancho chile pepper or chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder with flour in Step 2. Stir in 1 can (4 oz.) diced green chiles, 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, 1/4 cup diced bell pepper and 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro with macaroni in Step 4. Top with coarsely crushed corn chips before serving.
For a little something extra, add one or more of the following as toppings:
• Sprinkle on before baking:
Mix 1/2 cup fresh or dried bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil; 1/2 cup crushed plain potato chips (flavored chips tend to get too brown if added before baking) 1/2 cup French-fried onions.
Add just before removing from oven: 1/2 cup additional shredded cheese (bake 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted).
Sprinkle on about 1/2 cup of any of the following after baking – or serve alongside: crushed plain or flavored croutons; crushed crackers, flavored potato chips or snack chips; chopped fresh parsley or other herbs; sliced or cubed avocado; thinly sliced or chopped tomatoes; salsa or sour cream; diced bell peppers; sliced olives.
Swap the cheese, use any of the following cheeses in place of all or part of the Cheddar in the recipe:
• Asiago or Parmesan (up to 1 cup); blue or gorgonzola crumbled (up to 1 cup); brie crumbled (up to 1 cup); Cheddar (white or smoked); Colby; edam; fontina; gouda (regular or smoked); Gruyere; Havarti; Jarlsberg; manchego; Monterey jack or pepper jack; swiss.
Purchase the cheese already shredded in an 8-ounce package.
And this is just the beginning! While stirring the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce, try adding sliced ripe or green olives or bite-size pieces of cooked vegetables, hot dogs or cooked sausage.
Add a 4-ounce can of chopped green chilies, drained, for a perked-up version of mac and cheese.