When I was a freshman in college and inevitably got hungry around 9 or 10 p.m., I would usually reach for a microwave packet of mac and cheese. While perfect for dorm life, it’s not perfect for much else, and as soon as students are able to move into an on-campus apartment or an off-campus one with access to a kitchen, they’re likely ready to try some new and real recipes.
But, some students are cooking for the first time in college. Sites like Pinterest can be a good resource; however, many of the recipes on such sites, unless specifically marked as “easy,” are put together by people who spend lots of time cooking.
One of the first recipes I ever made with my mom, even when I was a little kid, was her microwave mac and cheese. It’s hardly more work than opening up a box of Kraft and it tastes so much better. There are a lot of benefits to this recipe. If you half the recipe, it makes a single serving for those with a smaller appetite, you can vary the type of cheese: cheddar, sharp cheddar, or pepper jack mac. Once you’re comfortable with the recipe, you can make it in about 20 minutes.
2 cups uncooked macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded cheese, plus some for top
¼ cup cracker or bread crumbs
- Cook and drain macaroni noodles.
- While noodles are cooking, melt butter for 30 seconds in a large glass bowl. Stir in flour, mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Microwave for 30 more seconds.
- Gradually stir in milk, while scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Cook 4-5 minutes on high, stirring once halfway through.
- Stir in cheese until melted. Add in the drained macaroni and stir together.
- Pour into a greased Pyrex or microwave safe pan. Sprinkle cracker or bread crumbs and some additional shredded cheese on top. Cook uncovered for 5-6 minutes at 60 power. Cover and cook an additional 6 minutes.
For gluten-free: Use gluten-free noodles and flour. With some gluten-free flours, you may need to add an extra two tablespoons of milk so the mixture resembles a smooth sauce. Do not use cracker crumbs, or make your own gluten-free breadcrumbs by using a food processor on high.
Some of my favorite variations:
White cheddar bacon mac and cheese: Make the standard recipe, using white cheddar instead of regular cheddar. Add in pieces of cooked bacon, steamed asparagus and toasted walnuts.
Pepper jack jalapeño mac and cheese: Make the standard recipe, using pepper jack cheese instead of regular cheddar. Stir in roasted jalapeños and some pieces of seasoned pork.
Green chili mac and cheese: Make the standard recipe, using half jack cheese and half cheddar cheese. Add in one small can of green chilies, either spicy or mild depending on your preference.
Whatever variation you choose—or if you just go with the classic version—this mac and cheese is sure to fill you up and impress your friends. When it comes out of the microwave, it looks and tastes like a much more difficult and time-consuming oven-baked mac and cheese. Next time you’re not sure what to make or short on time, break out this recipe for a satisfying meal any time of the year.