Lisa Erickson mug

Is there a food you love so much that if someone mentions it, your brain goes into overdrive and it’s all you can think about?

I thought there was not one food item I have to have. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you because it’s the same food that most children ages 2-16 love too. 

I admit it: I love macaroni and cheese—any kind, any time, and anywhere. 

 Please tell me there are more macaroni and cheese lovers out there. You know who you are. We could form a new club and have weekly mac-n-cheese potlucks. If you’re the person who begs a bite of box style mac-n-cheese from a small child, you’re in my club. Ever spy the mac-n-cheese on the buffet at a restaurant and pile it on your plate?—yup, you’re in, too. Do you buy it in the frozen section of the grocery store because it’s the more grown-up version? Do you know which version of noodle shapes tastes best in box varieties? 

If you answered yes to any of these you’re my kind of food friend!

While all of the store-bought versions are good enough, why not treat yourself and your family to probably the best macaroni and cheese you’ll ever eat this Thanksgiving? 

Lisa’s Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 10 | Prep time: 45 minutes

Bake time: 30 minutes

1 lb. elbow pasta

2 Tbsp coarse salt—for pasta water

1/2 cup butter, plus more for baking dish and cooked pasta

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 cups half and half

3 cups cheddar cheese, grated and divided (Do not use a cheddar that has been aged for a long time. Aged cheeses are harder to melt)

1 cups Gruyere cheese, grated and divided

1 cup Colby cheese, grated

1 tsp salt

Black pepper to taste, freshly ground

1/2 tsp paprika

Crunchy Topping (Optional)

3 cups panko breadcrumbs

3 Tbsp butter, melted

1/2 tsp garlic salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish with high sides. Set aside.

If using the optional crunchy topping, combine panko, butter and garlic salt in a bowl and set aside. 

In a large Dutch oven, bring 10 cups water to a boil; add salt. Add pasta and cook 4 minutes less than the package recommends. Drain water and return to pot with 1 tablespoon butter. Stir until butter is melted, evenly coating pasta. Set aside. 

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and cook mixture for 30 seconds. Whisking constantly, pour milk, half and half into flour mixture. Bring mixture to slow simmer. Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper and paprika and all cheese except 1 cup  cheddar. Stir until cheeses are melted and smooth. Return to low heat if needed to melt cheese.

Add the prepared pasta to the cheese mixture; stir to combine. Pour into baking pan. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and edges are golden brown. Sprinkle crunchy topping if using and return to oven for 5-8 minutes. 

If preparing macaroni and cheese ahead of time, cool mixture completely and refrigerate. Before baking, bring macaroni and cheese to room temperature, about 1 hour. Increase baking time to approximately 45 minutes. 

Lisa Erickson is a food columnist who loves adventure and food. You can find more recipes at or email her at


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