Make It Better Yourself: Mac n’ Cheese, Lemon Loaf

According to a recent Reuters story, one-third of U.S. adults are eating out less frequently than three months ago. The reason? Mostly the cost. No surprise there. Not even drive-thru fast food is inexpensive these days.

In the same survey cited by Reuters, two-thirds of the respondents said they consider eating at home to be very or somewhat cheap. And that’s because … it is!

Now, somewhere in between not eating out because it’s too expensive and eating at home because it’s cheaper there has to be a solution that makes eating at home not only cheap, but  satisfyingly delicious, too.

Everyone has their weakness—mine happens to be macaroni and cheese and in my opinion, it’s hard to beat Panera Bread’s signature Mac & Cheese. But that $8 price tag is hard to swallow.

Everything in me has been determined to figure out how to make this myself at home, and for more like $.80 a serving. And that’s exactly what I do—as often as I dare.

This mac and cheese is in my opinion even better than Panera’s. It’s smooth and creamy thanks to a secret ingredient that may make some of my readers wince.

In a word: Velveeta.

I know what you’re thinking, but if an ingredient or technique makes a dish taste better and gives it a heavenly texture, I am all for it. The key lies in how much Velveeta you use—only a very small amount. I promise you, people will go nuts for this Mac & Cheese. Just don’t mention the V-word. It’ll be our little secret.

Mac & Cheese

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup evaporated milk (may sub with whole, 2% or skim)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar (I use Costco’s English Coastal Cheddar, but any white cheddar will do)
  • 2 ounces Velveeta, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ditto
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 pound pasta (cavatapppi, elbow or shells), cooked al dente
  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions making sure to salt the water. Retain about 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
  2. Set a large pot over medium high heat. Add butter and allow to completely melt. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until fully incorporated. Cook for one full minute.
  3. Reduce the temperature to medium. Pour in the milk, heavy cream, salt, dry mustard, and pepper. Continue whisking until it begins to bubble. Reduce temperature to Low and add the grated white cheddar and Velveeta cheeses. Stir until melted and fully incorporated.
  4. Add the cooked pasta, gently stirring until combined.
  5. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes, as it thickens. If it gets too thick, return to Low heat, adding pasta water a couple of tablespoons at a time while stirring gently until it is just perfect. Taste to check for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper as desired.
  6. Enjoy!

Serves: 8.


Years ago, I had an epiphany that has saved me a lot of money: I do not like Starbucks coffee. There, I said it. I find it to be generally way too strong and it tastes burned. But there’s more at Starbucks than just coffee. I’m talking that pastry case, and more specifically: Lemon Loaf. How do they do that?

It was a happy day when my daughter-in-law Wendy texted me this recipe for what we now believe is better than Starbucks Lemon Loaf!

The key ingredient? Pure lemon extract—not lemon oil, not lemon juice but quality, pure lemon extract*.

Lemon Loaf

Loaf

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon extract* (not teaspoons and not lemon oil and please, not lemon juice!) more or less to taste. Hint: Start with 1 tablespoon then taste before adding more
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Lemon Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, more or less
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
  2. Get out a large bowl and add the eggs, sugar and sour cream. Whisk vigorously until smooth and combined.
  3. Drizzle in the oil while whisking and continue to stir unitl completely combined. Add the lemon zest, lemon extract, and whisk to incorporate. (NOTE: Please don’t attempt to use lemon juice in place of lemon extract because it’s not strong enough and the acidity can alter the overall results.)
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and stir until just combined, don’t overmix. Some lumps will be present and that’s okay, don’t try to stir them smooth.
  5. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Bake for about 50 to 52 minutes, or until top is domed, set, and a toothpick inserted in the center crack comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs but no batter. In the last 10 minutes of baking, tent pan with foil (loosely drape a sheet of foil over pan) to prevent excessive browning on the top and sides of bread before center cooks through.
  6. Allow loaf to cool in pan on top of a wire rack for at least 30 minutes (up to 4 hours) before turning out onto rack to cool completely before glazing.

Lemon Glaze:

  1. Place the confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl and slowly drizzle in the lemon juice while whisking until it is smooth and combined. You may need to play with the sugar and lemon juice amounts a bit as necessary for desired consistency and flavor.
  2. Evenly drizzle glaze over bread before slicing and serving. Extra glaze can be spread on the cut surface of the bread like you’d spread butter on toast and it soaks right in making the bread even more lemony. Bread will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Do not store in the fridge, as it will dry out quickly.
  3. Wow!

*Lemon Extract—you can make it yourself and you should! Then consider making it your signature homemade gift, the kind of gift your friends and family long to receive because it is so lovely. Hint: Include this Lemon Loaf recipe with your lemon  extract gifts. Perfect!

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  • Margo

    Regarding the lemon loaf; we live off grid, completely solar. Therefore, I either “bake” using my microwave or using my toaster/convection oven. This recipe makes me think I should use the toaster/convection oven. Because of the large draw of energy for baking long periods, I am wondering if I can cut the recipe in half and bake in a 9″ square pan instead of in a loaf pan. This would cut my baking time in half. The recipe sounds wonderful. Thank you.

  • crabbyoldlady

    I’m with you on the Starbuck’s coffee, nasty bitter stuff. Can’t wait to try the mac ‘n cheese recipe, Panera’s is the best! And Velveeta truly makes the best grilled cheese sandwich too.

  • Amy Schweim

    I recently purchased an instant pot and make Mac-n- cheese in it. The final product is very much like Panera’s and I don’t use velveeta. I use white cheddar and a sharp cheddar. My kids love it!

  • Jennifer Martin Van Rosmalen

    Use evaporated milk instead, grate your own cheese also.
    There is absolutely nothing healthy about Velveeta. It is plastic.
    Pre-grated cheese has wood chips and/or cornstarch in it to help keep it separated.

    • Angela Weaver

      Pre-shredded cheese uses cellulose, not wood chips, or corn starch. I don’t mind the corn starch, but I don’t buy the stuff that uses cellulose.

      • Jennifer Martin Van Rosmalen

        Whoops. I meant WOOD PULP, not wood chips. My bad. In my mind, it’s the same thing. In any event, cellulose should not be in cheese products or any other foodstuffs for human consumption. Corn starch can cause digestion upset and blockages in some people.

        • Angela Weaver

          I agree completely! I don’t even buy Parmesan cheese that way anymore. I shred it all myself and then gently vacuum seal it. Lasts a good long time!

  • Carol Rowe

    We use Pioneer Pepper Gravy mix according to directions, then add cheeses stir till melted , add macaroni, mix well and serve. Excellent mac and cheese

  • DDNW

    On the mac-n-cheese, leave out the evap milk, heavy cream, and Velveeta … all are unhealthy or fake. Use 2 C low-fat milk for cheese sauce. Grate your own cheese. Simpler, better for you, delicious.