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A Black Iron Haven

Macaroni & Cheese in Cast Iron: All You Can Eat

Posted by Rick and Kathy Mansfield

I know I'm biased, but I really do believe that macaroni and cheese tastes better in cast iron. Most folks probably don't think about cooking dishes like this in cast iron, opting for a regular casserole dish or even a non-cast iron stove top pan if making the generic box mix from Kraft. If that's you, I have three suggestions: (1) Regardless of your recipe--whether from scratch or a mix--try it in cast iron. You will be very pleased with the texture that macaroni and cheese gets from cast iron. (2) I've yet to come across a really difficult macaroni and cheese recipes. I strongly urge you to make it from scratch rather than making it from a box. Having said that though, I realize that some folks simply like boxed macaroni and cheese. Therefore (3), if you insist on making macaroni and cheese from a box, at least try it out in cast iron--probably just a skillet--especially if you have a lid for your skillet. You will be very surprised with the results.

To test my assertion that macaroni and cheese always tastes better in cast iron, we made a number of different recipes--four to be exact--all cooked in cast iron. Some of these recipes are better than others. Since Kathy and I cooked them (and ate them!) together, she's going to add her comments. Unless you see Kathy's name next to the paragraph, assume that it's me--Rick--writing.

Supposedly, macaroni and cheese goes back to early 19th century when Thomas Jefferson served it to guests. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. What I do know is that it doesn't begin to popularly appear in cookbooks until the middle of the 20th century. Therefore in an attempt to get back to the foundations of macaroni and cheese, we started with a recipe from the original 1953 Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book.

Macaroni and Cheese
1953
Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book

This recipe is interesting at a number of points. First, it calls for either a 6 or 7 oz. package of macaroni. I can't find elbow macaroni in these small amounts anymore. The smallest package I can find at the grocery store today is 16 oz--more than twice the amount called for in the 1953 recipe. I used a food scale to measure out the required 6 oz. of macaroni. Note also that only 6 oz. of macaroni yields a total of six servings. If anything, I believe that this speaks to the way portion sizes have grown in our expectations today. This dish, split six ways, means that the macaroni and cheese is a true side as opposed to the much larger potions we often eat today.

The recipe also calls for 2 cups of American cheese. I can't find American cheese in grocery stores these days; I can only find cheddar. I assume that I could find a block of American cheese at a specialty store, but I simply used cheddar in this recipe instead.

We used a Lodge two-quart serving pot with iron cover for this recipe.

Of the four macaroni and cheese dishes we made, this was the most basic and my least favorite. It's not that it was bad. Not at all. It just simply didn't stand out compared to the other three.

Kathy's comments: Although this macaroni and cheese dish was good (I can't imagine one that isn't!), it was not my favorite. The minced onions just didn't belong. I love onions, but somehow they didn't fit with this recipe. If we made this dish again, I'd try sauteed sweet onions.


Cast Iron Required:
  • Two quart cast iron serving pot
Ingredients:
  • 1 6 oz. package 7-minute macaroni, (or 1 7 oz. package elbow macaroni)
  • 2 cups American cheese, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper
  • paprika
Directions
Cook 7-minute macaroni according to directions on package. Mix with cheese, milk, onion, and salt and pepper; turn into creased two quart cast iron pot (original: 1 1/2 quart casserole). Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake mixture in moderate oven [350°] 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.



MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).


Macaroni 'n' Cheese
1953 Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book

Interestingly, the 1953 Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book has four macaroni and cheese recipes on the same page (178), although we only tried two of them. This next one really caught my interest because it had a cream of mushroom soup base. That by itself piqued my curiosity. Like the previous recipe, it also called for only 6 oz. of macaroni which I measured on a food scale. Also like the previous recipe, this one also called for cubed macaroni and cheese. But this time, I simply shredded my cheese instead, which I believe is a better solution.

I used the same Lodge cast iron serving pot for this recipe as the previous one. I really liked the flavor of this version of macaroni and cheese. The onions and cream of mushroom soup give it a good flavor. It's also the only macaroni and cheese we made that was layered. It looks really nice in the serving pot once it's dipped into, and it looks simply sinful on the plate. I liked this recipe quite a bit and would like to try it again. Kathy did not care for it as much.

Kathy's comments: Of the four macaroni and cheese recipes we tried, this was my least favorite. Once again, I didn't think the onions quite belonged. Since this was the second recipe to have them as an ingredient, I assume I am simply biased against onions in my mac and cheese. I also didn't like the cream of mushroom soup. It turned this side dish into more of a casserole in its taste and feel. Don't get me wrong, I still ate plenty of it, though!

Cast Iron Required:
  • Two quart serving pot
Ingredients:
  • 1 6 oz. package 7-minute macaroni
  • 1 10 1/2 or 11 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper
  • 1/2 pound American cheese, cubed
Directions
Cook macaroni in boiling, salted water; drain and rinse.

Combine the mushroom soup, milk, onion, and seasonings.

Alternate layers of macaroni, soup, and cheese in creased 2 quart cast iron pot (original: 1 1/2-quart baking dish). Bake in moderate oven [350°] about 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.



MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).


Kathy's Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese
Kathy Mansfield

I've probably eaten this recipe (and variations on it based on ingredients we had available) more than any other in the last two decades. This is a recipe created by Kathy's mother that Kathy has adapted over time. It's always good, hands down. This was the first time it was cooked in cast iron. I used a Lodge enameled roaster/casserole pan which was perfect. The mac and cheese had a nice texture and was wonderful as a main dish.

Kathy's Comments: This recipe is adapted from my Mom’s delicious homemade macaroni and cheese. I live over 700 miles away from Mom, but every time I go home (usually summer and Christmas), she makes sure to have macaroni and cheese ready for me. I don’t often make the dish myself, but when I do I usually add the jalapenos for a little kick! In earlier years I used Jalapeño Cheese Whiz, but I haven’t been able to find it in my local grocery store the past few years. This dish is definitely a crowd pleaser and can even be served as a main pasta dish rather than as a side.


Cast Iron Required:
  • Roaster/Casserole pan
Ingredients
  • 1 16 oz. box macaroni noodles
  • 1 8 oz. Velveeta cheese, cubed (8 oz. jar of Cheez Whiz may be substituted)
  • 1-2 fresh jalapeños, chopped fine
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese, in all
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Paprika
Directions
Cook macaroni noodles according to package directions. Butter a 9x12 cast iron baking dish. Mix noodles with Velveeta cheese, chopped jalapeños, butter, milk, and one cup of the cheddar cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly in baking dish. Cover with remaining cheddar cheese. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, or until bubbly.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).


Macaroni & Cheese Supreme
Cajun Men Cook

This is one of my favorite macaroni and cheese recipes of all time. I've been making this recipe for well over a decade and a half--or however long ago it was that my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Cajun Men Cook. Of all four recipes shown here, this one is the richest and most involved. But the little bit of extra effort is worth the time. In years past I baked it in a casserole dish. But in moving it to cast iron, I used my original 10 1/4" Lodge cast iron skillet given to me in the nineties (the closest equivalent available for purchase is here). The beauty of using this skillet meant that other than boiling the macaroni in a separate pan, everything is cooked in one pan. The onions are sauteed in butter, and then the cream and cheese is mixed in the same skillet. Once the pasta is added the skillet goes straight into the oven.

In making it this time, we used a cup and a half of white cheddar and a cup of regular yellow cheddar. The original recipe didn't call for it, but I added a little bit of grated yellow cheddar on top for some color. With flour, butter, onions and heavy cream, this makes for one delicious recipe.

I'd also recommend having a little bit of bread handy. This recipe might leave a little bit of butter at the bottom of the bowl. A nice piece of bread can make good use of this!

Kathy's comments: Okay, okay. I know I said I was biased against onions in my mac and cheese, but in THIS recipe they are awesome! I know it's because they are sautéed first. Out of the four recipes, this was my favorite. In the past I haven't been as fond of this particular dish, but this time we used cooking wine rather than regular wine. I always thought in year's past that the wine taste was just a bit strong, but with the cooking wine, the flavor was perfect. I was sad to eat the last spoonful.


Cast Iron Required
  • 10 1/4" skillet
Ingredients:
  • 1 8 oz. elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine, (or vermouth)
  • 2 1/2 cups extra sharp grated cheddar cheese

Directions:
Boil macaroni in boiling salted water according to directions. Drain. Set aside. Meanwhile melt butter, add onion, sauté till tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper.



Slowly add cream and wine. Cook over low heat, stirring till thickened. Stir cheese until melted.



Add macaroni.



Pour into casserole dish and place in a 350° oven. Should be thoroughly heated and cheese sauce browned and bubbly—about 20 minutes.



MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).


What about you? What's your experience with macaroni and cheese in cast iron? Leave your thoughts, and if you want, your favorite recipes in the comments.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at rick@cookingincastiron.com or Kathy at kathy@cookingincastiron.com.

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