What does one do when one has had a hankering for mac and cheese for days but has zero desire to hang out over a hot stove? One looks to one’s slow cooker, of course!
I wanted something easy and not too labor-intensive, creamy but not gloppy, and obviously, I wanted it to taste cheesy and yummy. I dislike wimpy mac and cheese; it has to have a good sharp cheddar flavor if I’m going to eat it.
I saw a few problems with slow cooking mac and cheese. Overcooking the pasta was a distinct possibility. I also knew there would be issues with curdling because my Crock Pot runs quite hot even when it’s set on Low.
Based on my usual stove-top mac and cheese recipe, I thought if I used a little bit of American cheese and some evaporated milk, it would keep the sauce from curdling.
Yes, it looks kind of gross what with all the pasta swimming in the milk mixture. It will all be absorbed during cooking. Stir it around every 20 minutes or so. I set my cooker to the Keep Warm function about halfway through cooking because the Low setting was still too hot.
Unfortunately, it was a dud. I noticed the eggs had curdled a bit, particularly at the bottom. As I said above, my slow cooker runs super hot, so I’m actually not that surprised the eggs curdled even after I tempered them. The nice thing is that aside from the egg issue, the sauce was soft, velvety, and smooth.
But it didn’t have the sharp cheddar flavor I was looking for, even with the powdered mustard and hot sauce I’d added to boost some of the tanginess; it tasted like I’d never added the sharp cheddar at all. A little American processed cheese goes a long way toward stabilizing the sauce but also dulls the flavor. Then I remembered that the four-cheese shredded cheese I’d bought included American cheese. I shouldn’t have added that last slice of cheese on top and I should have used more sharp cheddar and less of the blend. 😦
I didn’t forget about the pasta. I used a mix of whole grain rotini and regular durum wheat rotini because I had a half-pound of each and didn’t want two open packages of organic pasta to languish in my pantry. I don’t know why I did this since I hate most whole-wheat pastas (I do like Barilla Plus pasta though; it’s not gritty). The whole-wheat pasta cooked up gritty, as I’d expected, and the regular one was gummy but not in an overcooked way. It was just a weird texture.
I guess sometimes the mainstream commercial stuff really is better.
What I did love about this recipe is how quick and easy it was to put together. You know those recipes that are supposed to be done in under thirty minutes? Yeah, it always me takes at least twice as long to make those dishes. But this? From mise en place (“put in place” or to set up) to washing up the dishes, it took all of 20 minutes. For reference, mise en place for me involves disinfecting my food prep surfaces before I even get my ingredients out.
In the end, this just didn’t do it for me and between the sauce’s lackluster flavor and grainy/gummy texture of the pasta, I actually tossed it out. I do plan to tweak the recipe a bit, but not anytime soon.
Here is the recipe; feel free to mess around with it and make suggestions, or if you have a great slow cooker mac and cheese recipe of your own, I’d love to read it in the comments! In the meantime, I’m going back to the stove top version.
- 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 tsp Colman’s Dry Mustard
- 2 tsp Frank’s Hot Sauce
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 1/4 cups milk (I used whole)
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded 4-cheese blend (I’d reduce this to 1 cup and increase the sharp cheddar cheese by a cup)
- 1 lb elbow macaroni or other small to medium length pasta of your choice
Heat the evaporated milk in the microwave until hot, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk into beaten eggs until smooth and eggs are warmed through. Whisk in the mustard, hot sauce, pepper and salt.
In the slow cooker, stir together the egg mixture, milk, cheeses, and macaroni. Set on low and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir every 20 minutes or so if your slow cooker runs very hot.