My Journey From Boxed To The Ultimate Mac & Cheese

Refinery29's My Kitchen Sink is an exploration of our most meaningful recipes — the go-to dishes that we turn to time and again. Not only do we enjoy eating them, and have the assembly mastered, but they also have an important personal history. Step into our kitchens to relive these stories, learn the recipes, and make them with us.
Today, we're making macaroni and cheese — but not just any mac and cheese. According to Refinery29's YouTube Content Strategist, Rachel Chen, this is the ultimate recipe. What makes Chen's take on this dish so supreme? It's all about the cheese. "A lot of times you find recipes that are three cheese, this is four cheeses. My tip? Always go more [on cheese]," she says. She also adds the flavorful additions of bacon bits, jalapeño sausage, and red pepper flakes. "I love how creative you can get with mac and cheese! You can turn it into a breakfast mac, fried mac and cheese balls, lobster mac and cheese..."
Chen's passion for the childhood favorite dish stems back to college days when she lived off instant boxes of the stuff. "I used to always just make it from the box — but I got so into it that I wanted to start trying to make gourmet mac and cheese," she says. She started with a recipe from The New York Times as her jumping off point for transitioning to gourmet. "I only used the recipe to make a list of main ingredients to buy, now I use it as a base so I can get adventurous." Chen's family didn't cook frequently when she was growing up so she started her own culinary journey about a year ago. Now, she swears by her go-to mac and cheese as an easy crowd pleaser for beginners in the kitchen. "I have such good memories of eating this dish with people I love," she says.
Watch Chen whip up her ultimate mac and cheese above and then try your hand at making the recipe below. And, don't forget her tip — when in doubt, more cheese!
Rachel's Ultimate Mac & Cheese Recipe
Serves 6
1 box or bag macaroni noodles
2-3 tbsp salted butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 block extra sharp white cheddar, cubed
1/2 block parmesan, grated
1/2 block sharp cheddar, shredded
1 package jalapeño chicken sausage, pan fried and chopped
3 strips bacon, pan fried and chopped
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 pinch red pepper flakes
3 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Cook macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in enough flour to make a roux. Add milk to roux slowly, stirring constantly. Stir in cheeses, and cook over low heat until cheese is melted and the sauce is a little thick.
4. Chop jalapeño chicken sausage and bacon, cook in a separate saucepan with 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat for 3 minutes until browned.
5. Put cooked macaroni in large casserole dish, spread the sausage-bacon mixture evenly over top, and finish by pouring the cheese sauce over macaroni. Mix together until incorporated. (Sometimes I add an extra pinch of red peppers flakes.)
6. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a clean sauce pan over medium heat and cook breadcrumbs and red pepper flakes until just browned (about 3 minutes). Sprinkle over the macaroni casserole.
7. Bake macaroni casserole in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Let cool before scooping to serve and enjoy!

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