Everything’s better with cheddar

Here it is, the finale of this three-part I Want To Cook miniseries. Three weeks ago we used fat and flour to make a roux, traditionally used to thicken soups, stews and the kind of sauce we made last week, a béchamel. Now we’ll use those foundations to build our latest and last creation: a dynamite cheddar cheese sauce.

With this sauce, the options are limitless. Yes, it’s the magic spread that will get kids and adults alike to eat broccoli. Bring some chips to the party and you have an instant dip. Or you can use it to make the greatest mac and cheese of your life.

The real beauty about this whole endeavor, though, is that you can tailor it to your liking. Not a fan of cheddar? Use Parmesan or another Italian-style cheese to make a mock Alfredo that would be at home over pasta.

Love the idea of fondue but not big on wine? This can be your ticket to dipping bliss. Or perhaps you like it spicy. If that’s the case, throw in some jalapenos and a pinch of cayenne powder: That will wake up those nachos.

With béchamel as a foundation, all this is possible. The sauce is needed for the cheese to incorporate, because, as I unfortunately learned at a very young age, you can’t just throw a bunch of cheese in a pot, turn on the heat and expect it to melt. I think we’re still trying to get the burn remnants off that pan.

For now we’ll make a quick cheddar sauce from our béchamel. I use 4 cups of grated mild cheddar, but again, let your taste and senses be the guide. Use more for a stronger sauce, less for a milder one. This sauce is best used immediately. If you have to reheat, do it gently in a pot or in a microwave, stirring often.

Here’s how to make it happen, including the last two weeks’ instructions for roux and béchamel.

CHEDDAR CHEESE SAUCE

(Makes about 1.5 quarts)

Now that you’ve made the bechamel, like the kind pictured above, turning it into a cheese sauce is a snap. First, fish out the bay leaves and discard them.

Now stir in the mustard powder (you can also use prepared mustard in a bottle) and, with the heat still on low, slowly add the cheese and stir in until it has completely melted.

Congratulations: You just made cheese sauce!

To turn this into macaroni and cheese, slightly undercook a pound of elbow macaroni, mix with the cheese sauce in a greased casserole dish, top with bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

 

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