If you are on Pinterest (or even facebook, which has become a venue for recipe sharing lately), you will have noticed that crock pot recipes are all the rage. I've noticed one thing, however, that I find a little disappointing/disturbing. Many of the pictures of the supposed crock pot recipes are clearly not pictures taken of food cooked in a crock pot! They have obvious browning that only comes from roasting in an oven. Some picture the food still on a baking sheet! For me, if food doesn't look good enough to be in a picture, I probably don't want to eat it prepared that way. Did you know that the browning of food is called the "Maillard reaction"? It's a chemical reaction between amino acids and the natural sugars in food, and when food is seared, roasted, or broiled -- magic happens! The browned tops or crispy edges of food kissed by the Maillard reaction looks BEAUTIFUL and has an unequaled depth of flavor.
I have a crock pot among my many cooking tools, but I have to admit, I don't really use it for that many dishes. I prefer the the look and taste of food with caramelization (the Maillard reaction), and I find foods cooked in a crock pot have a mushy texture and a pallid appearance that don't appeal to me. That having been said, Mac and Cheese, as it turns out, is a perfect dish to make in a crock pot. It looks appetizing when cooked in a crock pot, and tastes amazing, too. You get nicely crunchy edges, where the cheese sauce browns against the inner surface of the crock pot, but the interior remains creamy and silky. Baked Mac and Cheese dries out pretty easily by the time you've achieved the coveted browned edges.
This recipe uses pasta right out of the box, with no precooking. Crock pots should be time savers, right? You can assemble this dish pretty quickly, and aside from giving it a stir and turning down the heat after the first hour, you don’t have to do anymore work. Other than shoveling onto your plate, of course. This mac and cheese dish is a favorite among my teenage daughters and the hoard of friends that drop by our house on a regular basis. This recipe will feed a ton of hungry kids!
Easy Cheesy Crock Pot Mac and Cheese
2 pounds elbow macaroni (or your favorite pasta shape)
9 cups very hot water
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 cups milk
1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces processed American cheese, shredded or cubed
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Turn crock pot on to high and let it warm up for 10 minutes while you assemble your ingredients. Spray the interior of the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Add hot water and butter to the crock pot. Stir in pasta. Add remaining ingredients, except paprika, and stir well. Allow the mac and cheese to cook on high temperature for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to low, give everything a good stir, sprinkle the paprika over the mac and cheese, cover it and let it cook for 4-5 hours, until it’s golden brown around the edges.