Guinness Mac and Cheese

Look, I don't care about football. The few times a year I watch football, I do it for one of two reasons: the other people watching, or the food (obviously). The last time I watched an entire game, it was because I loved the people who were also watching, but also because it was a great opportunity to make pizza dough-based pretzels and a creamy, unctuous beer-cheddar sauce. Beer and cheddar have such an affinity for one another-the sour punch of the beer plays gorgeously with the nutty tang of the cheddar (particularly the sharp variety). The combination of the two invokes the umami must-not-stop-eating-this-deliciousness effect, which is reason enough for me.

As I stirred the simple sauce on the stove (just browned onions in a roux with Guinness stout, cheddar, and mustard), I couldn't help but think of how perfect this sauce would be for a mac and cheese. Beer and cheese are a dream combination, and tender pasta seemed like the perfect vehicle for them both.

So today I made just that. Just watch. It's beautiful.

Note: Feel free to skip the pasta and just use the cheese sauce as a dip for pretzels, breadsticks, or chips.

INGREDIENTS8 ounces elbow macaroni, shells, penne, or other small-cut of pasta $1.50 for 16 ounces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish(es) $1 for a stick
1 medium onion, chopped 50 cents
3 tablespoons flour pantry
1 cup milk (preferably whole) $1.50 for a pint
1 cup Guinness stout $2.50 for a 10-ounce can
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus a small handful for garnish $3.50
dash of soy sauce pantry
salt and pepper to taste pantry
2 teaspoons dijon or whole-grain mustard optional
chopped fresh chives optional

Total cost of ingredients: $10.50

DIRECTIONSPreheat the broiler to high. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, just until onions begin to brown and become very fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour over the butter-onion mixture and whisk together. Add the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until a thick white sauce forms. Add the beer and continue whisking for another 2-3 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Add the cheese, one large handful at a time and continue stirring to make a thick cheese sauce. Add soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste, and the mustard, if using. Stir well.

Fold the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce until completely coated. Scrape the pasta-sauce mixture into a 9-inch-by-12-inch casserole dish or 48-ounce ramekins. Top with the reserved handful of cheese.

Broil for 1-2 minutes (watch carefully), until the cheese begins to bubble and brown slightly. Serve immediately topped with chopped chives and a tiny dollop of mustard, if desired.

Serves 4.

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