We’re taking turns catching colds around here. As I write this I’m wrapped in a blanket with a stiff neck (my mom keeps telling me to wrap a wool sock around it, like my grandad did, and I just might) and a mug of warm lemonade (yes!), sneezing approximately every 3 minutes, my face fixed with that expression you get when you’re just about to sneeze. (This cold is such a cliché.) We’re anticipating a high of -19 tomorrow, not that we’ll likely leave the house anyway after getting up at 5 to watch the gold medal hockey game. My ambitious plan is to make doughnuts and bellinis – or perhaps fizzy wine smoothies – and plenty of coffee. But later in the day, when everyone is cold and sleepy and huddled on the couch to catch the last of the Olympics, a batch of mac & cheese will be in the slow cooker. Oh yes it will. I wish it was in there now.
The first time I made this was back in late December, when some friends threw a house party and asked me to bring slow cooker mac & cheese. I have not had good experience with slow cooker mac & cheese in the past, and I debated cheating and making a regular batch of mac & cheese and bringing it in a slow cooker to keep warm. But I love the idea of a gooey, extra cheesy mac & cheese done in the slow cooker – it’s something that should work well, and there should be no need to have to precook the pasta – its starch should contribute to the thickening of the sauce and all that. It should work. And its success should not rely on a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup.
Also: I need crispy bits.
Mostly when I make mac & cheese I cook the noodles while simultaneously turning butter and flour into a paste to which I add milk and cook to thicken (or if you want to get fancy about it, make béchamel with a roux) and add big handfuls of grated old cheddar to melt. But this macaroni with lots of cheese went about things differently, amalgamating pasta, butter, milk and cheese into one delicious unit, rather than dousing cooked noodles with cheese sauce. A variation worked in the slow cooker – huzzah! I used up half a cheese ball from our Christmas party, which was really just grated cheese and cream cheese anyway, but if you don’t happen to have half a leftover cheese ball, cream cheese will work just fine. And there will be crispy bits aplenty.
And while it was meant for the kids at the aforementioned party, the adults devoured it and asked for the recipe, and I’ve made it twice since. Soon to be three times.
Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese
1 8 oz (250 g) pkg. cream cheese
4 cups milk (not skim)
salt and pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1 700 g pkg. old cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb. elbow macaroni, uncooked (4 1/2 cups)
If you have a blender or food processor, pulse the cream cheese with half (or all, if there’s room) the milk and the salt, pepper and nutmeg – pour into the bowl of a slow cooker along with the pasta, cheddar and remaining milk. Stir to combine everything well and cook on low for 3-4 hours, removing the lid to give it a stir about once an hour. Serve warm. Serves 8-10.