When macaroni and cheese is good, it's like you died and went to melted carb heaven. But when it's bad? Oh the sadness. We hate that feeling of disappointment when you've anticipated this creamy, gooey comfort food and it turns out wack. Maybe the sauce is too dry, or it melts weird, or the macaroni is so mushy, there's nothing to chew. Have these happened to you? Let's troubleshoot some of the most common mac and cheese mistakes then. Together, we will give this ultimate love-in-a-bowl every bit of cheesy goodness it deserves.
1. Cheese sauce gets grainy when it cools. This almost always happens when I use cheddar or when I get fancy and use a hard cheese like Gruyere. For a smoother sauce, try using a softer cheese like Havarti, Jack, or Fontina, which all melt like a dream. Mozzarella isn't bad if you mix it with other cheese and you don't use fresh mozzarella, but it has a tendency to go stringy sometimes.
More from The Stir: 6 Fun Mac and Cheese Recipes Your Whole Family Will 'Eat Up' (PHOTOS)
2. Cheese sauce separates while you're cooking it. This is all about the white sauce you start with. Make sure you cook your butter and flour mixture (1 tablespoon flour to 1 tablespoon butter) until it gives off a nutty smell. Then SLOWLY add the milk (1 cup), whisking as you go. Only after your white sauce is completely combined and starts to thicken do you add finely grated cheese -- and again, add that very slowly, and this time stir with a spoon, not a whisk.
Also: Add your pasta the minute your sauce is at a state of perfection. You'll want to have it cooked, drained, and ready to go when you start your sauce. Take everything off the heat and just combine; no further cooking needed. And speaking of pasta ...
3. Pasta is too mushy. This happens when you cook your pasta too long before adding the sauce, or when you let it cook in the sauce. Remember that even after you take everything off the burner, that sauce is still going to be hot. So under-cook your elbows just a tad before adding them to that sauce.
Unless you like your macaroni melted -- in which case, knock yourself out!
4. Your boxed mac and cheese sauce is all kinds of wrong. This is for those of you with a severe case of kitchen cluelessness, and no, I'm not judging you. (We've all made these mistakes.) These are the keys to success with powdered cheese. First, don't just dump the cheese powder and milk directly over your cooked noodles. Drain them first, set them aside, and mix together the cheese and milk using the measurements given in the directions on the box. (Adding butter makes it even better.) Use a whisk. Once you've got that sauce, turn off the heat and then add your elbows.
Macaroni and cheese excellence is within everyone's grasp, America. You can do this. Enjoy!
Do you have any secrets or tips to add to this list?
Image via Nicole Hill/Rubberball/Corbis