“Macaroni and cheese holds a special place in my heart. I grew up on my mom’s recipe, which she made only on special occasions; in between she made the pinch hitter from the blue box. As an adult, I developed a recipe for Spicy Mac and Cheese that I credit with making my former catering company successful. That catering company led me to Food Network — so my love affair with mac and cheese is real! During a 2016 episode of The Kitchen, my cohosts, two guests and I attempted to make the ultimate Thanksgiving macaroni and cheese, a group effort in which each person secretly added an ingredient. The result was a stovetop version with a creamy cheddar and gruyere bechamel. Our pasta was cavatappi (my addition) and we added brussels sprouts, squash and a toasted breadcrumb topping. It wasn’t bad, but viewers thought there were too many cooks in the kitchen. People started debating what the perfect macaroni and cheese should be, so I thought it would be fun to post a Twitter poll inviting passionate mac and cheese eaters to share their preferences for the “grater” good. Here’s what you came up with. Whether or not to top it was a tie, so the test kitchen made it both ways — you can pick a side!” says Sunny.
Preheat the oven to 400 ̊ F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs for al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water.
Meanwhile, melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, until smooth and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth, then add the mustard powder, cayenne, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce simmers and thickens slightly, 7 to 8 minutes.
Whisk the cheeses into the sauce one at a time, letting the cheese melt before adding more. Stir in the pasta to coat, adding the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen. (It’s OK if the sauce is loose — it will thicken as it bakes.)
Transfer the mac and cheese to the baking dish. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, then mix with the crushed crackers and chips. Sprinkle over half of the mac and cheese. Bake until the top is browned, 20 to 25 minutes.