STYLE

Straight up or deliciously doctored: 4 ways with your favourite comfort food - mac and cheese

02/09/2015 09:15 EST | Updated 04/11/2015 05:59 EDT
Do you love macaroni and cheese? Stupid question, right? OK, so let's try this one: How could you love macaroni and cheese even more?

Now we're talking. Because there are all sorts of simple ways to doctor an already awesome pan of basic mac and cheese to take our love of this dish to a whole new level. But let's start with the basics — our classic take on macaroni and cheese. Since everyone is pressed for time, we kept it simple with a stovetop version that will have you ready to eat in about 20 minutes.

But we didn't sacrifice flavour to get that speed. Four cups of cheese — a blend of cheddar and Gruyere — keep this dish rich and gooey. Want to push it even further? Add some grated Parmesan cheese and maybe even aged gouda. Now you've got yourself a four-cheese mac and cheese.

You could enjoy it as is, but we'll also walk you through three ways to up the ante. Want to keep it simple? How about a crunchy-salty topping of crushed potato chips? Or maybe you're looking for a little spice in your life. Our Midwestern take combines jalapenos and smoked paprika for kick. And no one would think less of you for combining both those ideas — perhaps a Midwestern mac and cheese topped with barbecue chips.

Or if you're trying to be virtuous, our green goddess version adds asparagus and a whole mess of fresh herbs. You can pretend all that greenery cancels out all the cheese.

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CLASSIC MACARONI AND CHEESE

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

2 cups shredded Gruyere or comte cheese

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 pound small pasta, such as shells or elbows, cooked according to package directions

In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisking continuously, pour in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mustard and both cheeses, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to melt. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta. Serve immediately or follow one of the variations below.

Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories; 240 calories from fat (44 per cent of total calories); 26 g fat (16 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 51 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 26 g protein; 580 mg sodium.

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POTATO CHIP BAKED

Spoon the macaroni and cheese into individual gratin dishes or a large casserole dish. Crush a bag of potato chips, then sprinkle them over the mac and cheese. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. For added punch, use flavoured potato chips, such as salt and vinegar, ranch or barbecue.

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MIDWESTERN

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute 1 diced yellow onion, 1 diced red bell pepper and 1 cup chopped ham in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until the onion is translucent. Add 2 teaspoons smoked paprika and 2 tablespoons chopped jarred jalapenos. Stir into the macaroni and cheese, then serve.

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GREEN GODDESS

Cut 1 bunch of asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cook in a skillet over medium-high in 1 tablespoon butter until just tender. Add to the macaroni and cheese along with 1/4 cup each chopped fresh chives, tarragon and basil, the zest of 1 lemon, and an additional tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Mix well, then serve.

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