Mac 'n Cheese -a Panera copycat recipe

This weekend my Church is hosting a "Birthday party for Jesus" in which women and children from five area shelters are invited.  This is such an amazing event!  The Church's gym is completely transformed into a Winter Wonderland.  I love seeing the mom's and children's faces as they step into the event.  From the moment they arrive, they get loved on and enjoying a Christmas they may not otherwise have.  They are provided with lunch, birthday cupcakes, and punch.  The moms and children have an opportunity to make crafts {such as ornaments, necklaces, or ice sugar cookies}, enjoy time socializing and playing, and hear the story of Jesus.  In past years, Santa made a visit, but last year a group a angels came by to sing.  To top it off, each mom and child receives an overflowing bag of individualized gifts.  It's so cute to see the 2 and 3 year old kiddos trying to carrying their bag of goodies around since the bag is taller than they are!  

Mike and I have helped in the kitchen since this event started {I can't remember if this is the 4th or 5th year}.  This year, the event coordinator wanted the kid's menu to include mac 'n cheese. Of course, we wanted to recipe test the mac 'n cheese before the event to ensure flavor quality.  Well, that might be true, but Mike also wanted to try the mac 'n cheese since it is one of his favorite foods!  

This recipe turned out well.  The cheese sauce is thick, creamy, and clings to the noodles.  It was actually a good thing we tested the recipe, because there is one thing I am going to change: the Dijon.  I'm not a fan of Dijon mustard, so I honed in on that taste immediately.  I'm not sure if kids' palates would enjoy that taste either.  Mike noticed the Dijon flavor, but it didn't seem to bother him too much.  We have never noticed the pronounced Dijon taste when eating mac 'n cheese at Panera, so I'm not sure why it is so evident in this recipe.   Our fix is to use ground mustard instead of Dijon.

Say a prayer for Mike, myself, and all of our kitchen helpers who will be making food for 40 to 50 children and 50 up to 100 adults.  More importantly, say a prayer that all of the moms and children who attend will be blessed that day!  Here's to good food and gladness!

CLICK HERE for a printer friendly recipe.  Makes approximately six- 1 cup servings.

Ingredients for Mac 'n Cheese: a Panera Copycat recipe

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) All-purpose flour
  • 2 and 1/4 cups 2% milk
  • 1 pound (16 oz) dry pasta noodles, macaroni or small shells
  • 8 oz white American cheese, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz Extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, grated or shredded
  • 1/2 Tbsp of dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon dry ground mustard
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp hot sauce

Directions for Mac 'n Cheese

  1. Prepare pasta according to package.  
  2. Make a rue: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute, stir constantly.
  3. Slowly and gradually add the milk into the butter/flour.  Increase the heat to medium.  Continue to whisk until mixture thickens and bubbles.  Remove from heat source.
  4. Add the cheeses to the rue, stir until smooth.  Add the mustard, hot sauce, and salt.  Stir until incorporated.  
  5. Add cooked and drained {but not rinsed} pasta to the cheese sauce.  If needed, heat for 1 minute to warm through.  Serve immediately.