Baked Mac and Cheat: A Shortcut To Macaroni and Cheese Bliss

Written by Rebecca Peters-Golden
Baked macaroni and cheese is my all-time favorite comfort food. I mean, all nutritional values being equal, I would eat it every day. Baked mac and cheese isn’t that hard to make, either, but there’s one thing that consistently short-circuits my after-work impulse to throw one together: I never have milk in the house to make the béchamel sauce.

Being the resourceful gal that I am, I decided to take matters into my own hands and transform my favorite boxed mac and cheese (Trader Joe’s shells and cheese) into an easy baked mac and cheese that did an end run around béchamel. I made the boxed version as usual, poured it into a casserole dish, sprinkled a little Parmesan cheese on it, topped it with a mixture of sautéed onions and crumbled-up bread heels, and baked it for twenty minutes. It was great; the sweetness of the onion and butteriness of the crispy bread were the perfect complement to the creamy mac and cheese.

dressed-up boxed mac and cheese, via
After a few go-rounds with my baked mac and cheat, I hit upon the perfect flavor combo for me: bacon, Brussels sprouts, red onion, and chèvre, with a cornbread topping. It is an addictive sweet-savory combination with a slight hint of the South—and though it has a few steps to it, the preparation doesn’t feel like much work at all. I’ll often make it when I have leftover cornbread and bacon to eliminate the two most time-consuming steps.

You can easily omit the bacon (or use veggie bacon or sausage) to make this vegetarian, and you can adapt the flavor combo of sprouts, veggie bacon, and cornbread to use with a boxed vegan mac and cheese. I also love to swap the Brussels sprouts out for a layer of creamy, buttery baked sweet potato, which mixes beautifully with the cornbread.

Now that I’ve started dressing up my mac and cheese, I can’t stop thinking of additional flavor combinations and easy substitutions. Here are just a few you could try:

  • Add sautéed onions, garlic, broccoli, and spinach to the mac and cheese to get your daily servings of veg.
  • Add chopped pastrami to the mac and cheese, lay swiss cheese on top, and use rye bread for your topping for a Reuben mac and cheese—heck, I think I’d even drizzle some Russian dressing on the top after I took it out of the oven!
  • Add chopped tomato to the mac and cheese, crumble feta on top, and use pita bread or chips for your topping to make a Greek-style mac and cheese.
  • Add leftover sliced steak and fried onions and peppers to your mac and cheese, top with provolone, and use hoagie rolls for your topping to make Philly cheesesteak mac and cheese. Don’t forget the ketchup and hot sauce to dip bites into.

RPGRebecca is a writer living in Philadelphia. When not writing fiction and poetry, she blogs about young adult books at Crunchings & Munchings and copy edits at Hermes Editing. She likes bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and cheese. But mostly cheese.

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  1. Margalit says

    Although I add veggies to plain pasta, I’ve never tried it with mac and cheese. All of these suggestions are just mouth-watering! Thanks!

  2. Caleb says

    Just reading this recipe makes me hungry. I can not wait to try it for my family, I know they will love it. Thanks for sharing.