I know I’ve already posted about macaroni and cheese—twice–but this is a completely different type of recipe than the last two.
Last month was December, and of course that means holiday parties. In my case, only one holiday party because I am antisocial and the only holiday party I had to go to was at work. This particular holiday party was a potluck, and since potlucks tend to be overburdened with desserts, I decided I would bring a couple of side dishes instead. (I brought a dessert too because I couldn’t help myself.) Since the party was at the end of the day at work, it presented a challenge: I needed something that I could keep in the fridge all day and have ready at 4 PM. I rifled through my piles of recipes and poked around online for a while and accidentally stumbled on this recipe for Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese. I did not own a Crock Pot, having thrown out my Grandma’s old one when I noticed there was a crack in the crock. So I bought one.
The first thing you’ll notice about this recipe is that it’s a cheater. It uses Velveeta as part of the cheese mix. It also uses evaporated milk in the cheese sauce. All in all, it’s got a lot of the hallmarks of a classic 20th century Made-To-Sell-Kraft-Products semi-homemade monstrosity. Surprisingly, it’s pretty damn good.
No macaroni and cheese that doesn’t see the inside of an oven is going to turn out like a baked macaroni and cheese. This recipe yields a creamy, gooey mac and cheese, but I didn’t find it overly gluey, which is my main complaint about Velveeta. On the other hand, all-cheddar mac and cheese runs the risk of being stringy or greasy, and it inevitably requires a roux to thicken the sauce. I think the cheddar/Velveeta blend gives you the best of both worlds. The cheddar gives flavor, and the melty, emulsified wonder of modern food science that is Velveeta gives body and creaminess without the hassle of making a roux.
Eliminating the roux is what makes this recipe a “dump” recipe, where you just throw everything in the pot and let it go–exactly what I needed for the party. I cooked the noodles the night before and buttered them, then mixed together all the sauce ingredients in a separate container. Both containers (noodles in one, sauce in the other) went in the fridge until about 4 hours before the party. Then I dumped everything in the Crock Pot and just let it cook, stirring every once in a while. This is just stupidly easy to make.
The moral of the story here is that not all processed food is bad. My generation is full of judgmental food hipsters that poo-poo anything that comes out of a can or contains a preservative. I could write a whole essay about everything wrong with that sentiment, but instead, I’m just gonna let the food speak for itself.
Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese
Yields: 6–8 servings
Time: 30 minutes prep + ~3 hours cooking
- 12 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
- 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
- 1½ cups half & half
- 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (not in the original recipe, but I’m obsessed with this stuff lately)
Ridiculously Simple Instructions
- Cook the pasta al dente, drain it, and toss with the butter. If making ahead, put the pasta in a container and store in the fridge until ready to cook.
- Spray a 3½–4 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Dump in the noodles, evaporated milk, half-and-half, 2½ cups cheddar cheese, Velveeta, salt, paprika, and pepper; stir everything together. If your noodles were in the fridge, they’ll be a solid block, but they’ll break up as they warm up and the butter melts.
- Cover and cook on low for 2–3 hours (I cooked mine 3–4, but all of the ingredients has been in the fridge.) You should probably stir it every once in a while. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, top with or stir in the last ½ cup of cheddar cheese. Serve in the slow cooker. Supposedly the leftovers will keep in the fridge for 4 days, but I didn’t have any.