This is the first recipe I learned to cook properly, after my mother got tired of my pestering her to make it for dinner. Most families apparently have some kind of macaroni and cheese variant, be it Kraft or homemade, but this one's a little different. It's not a baked dish, but rather a sauce that you then put on pasta... or vegetables, or just a spoon if the mood takes you. Unfortunately, like many family recipes, there aren't set quantities of ingredients, you just get a feel for it and make it up as you go along.

What You'll Need:

  • Cheese, usually cheddar (see below); approximately one-third to a half of a ten-ounce package of cheese per person, grated.
  • A pat of butter; no more than a tablespoon, and usually much less, at least sufficient to coat the bottom of the pan.
  • A small amount of flour, used for thickening.
  • Milk, any variety.
  • A dash of Worchestershire sauce.
  • A medium saucepan.
  • A whisk. A sauce whisk is ideal; in a pinch, a wooden spoon will do.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in the pan over low heat. Add the flour, and stir until no longer (very) lumpy. The more flour you add now, the thicker the sauce will be later; you cannot usefully add flour after this point, so if you're not sure be slightly generous and you can thin it down later. Next, add some milk to the pan and stir until mostly mixed. You don't need too much, but make sure the bottom of the pan is covered.

Once the milk is warm, start adding cheese. Add smallish handfuls at a time, and stir until mostly melted. If you feel the sauce is becoming too thick when the cheese has melted, add more milk. Repeat, adding cheese and milk, until all the cheese has been put in and melted. The sauce will thicken slightly as it is cooked, and again when it cools, so don't worry if it's a little thin.

Once the cheese is all melted, add a dash or two of worchestershire sauce, to taste. It has a strong flavour, you won't need much. Stir, remove from heat, and serve. Tada!

Serving:

I traditionally serve this sauce over a hollow pasta, such as ziti or macaroni, usually cooked with green peas for the evening's vegetable serving. It goes well with most pastas that I've tried, and is spectacular when combined with a good cayenne pepper pasta. Unfortunately, this is rather hard to find, and for everyday use a nice sprinkling of red pepper on top will do for those who like their food with a kick. For those looking for something a little different, this is a delicious generic cheese sauce, and can be served with broccoli, cauliflower, or your favorite veggie for an unusual and tasty side dish.

A Note on Cheeses: Any cheese that melts well can be used as the basis for this sauce, and you can use multiple cheeses for a blend of flavours. My family is especially fond of extra-sharp cheddar, but monterey jack works quite well also. Hard cheeses, such as parmesan or romano, can be added, and make a nice blend, but should not be the base of the sauce; blue cheeses, such as Stilton, can be used the same way if you're fond of the flavor. If you use a stringy cheese such as mozarella, the sauce will taste fine, but look extremely odd. I used to think that Swiss and Jarlsburg also made a good sauce, but the strangest results I've ever had from this recipe had used Swiss, so you might want to be careful.

Common Mistakes:

Well, OK, common to me. If it's on this list, I've done it, and usually more than once.

  • Help! The sauce is separating! This means the heat was too high, and the cheese has separated into oil and dairy solids. It looks extremely unappetizing, and the texture is a little weird, but it'll taste OK. Next time, try using low heat instead of medium. You got impatient waiting for the cheese to melt, didn't you? If not, you probably left the sauce over the heat for too long, which had the same effect.
  • Help! The sauce is so thin it looks like water! Don't panic. You just didn't use enough flour initially, or added too much milk. You have a few options at this point: add more cheese (and usually serve several more people by the time you're done!), cook the sauce for a while after all the ingredients are added and hope you don't run into problem #1, or just start over again.
  • Help! The sauce tastes charred, and has little brown flecks in it! This probably means that either your pot wasn't clean, or you didn't stir well. Make sure you stir frequently enough to keep cheese from sticking to the bottom of the pan. If it does, it will scorch and flavor the entire sauce.
  • Help! The sauce is entirely solid, and you can cut it with a knife! OK, this one you can panic on. You didn't have guests over, did you? (I did! They still haven't let me live it down.) I've only had this happen once, so I don't have any idea what caused it or how to save it. I used Swiss cheese that time, for the first time in years, so it may have been related. If you replicate it, please let me know!
Enjoy! And remember, if it's not quite right the first time through, just keep playing.

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