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Fifteen Minute Macaroni and Cheese (from scratch!)

Sometimes, you need comfort food.  Last week was one of the worst weeks we’ve had in a long time.  Some of things involved were about 30 pounds of cat poop/vomit, arguments at work, disappointments in people/circumstances, and just plain old emotional exhaustion.  Yep, it’s time for macaroni and cheese.  I have a confession, my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe is actually Velveeta Shells and Cheese, yes from a box.  I know, I know, Velveeta isn’t even real cheese!  Believe me, I’ve said it myself many times.  But that’s what I had as a kid, it’s what we kids considered “gourmet” mac and cheese.  Of course with tuna and peas which my mom always added to give it some nutritional value.  It’s the taste and texture I’ve been trained to associate with macaroni and cheese.  But this recipe is a good substitute, and much better for you.  That’s right, a healthy macaroni and cheese recipe. The best part about it, is it only takes about 20 minutes to make!

I recently saw a recipe for one pot, stove-top macaroni and cheese on White On Rice Couple and knew I’d be making it that night.  You can trust anything Todd and Diane make, plus they live a foodie’s dream so why wouldn’t I want to make their recipe?  They know their stuff.  So hope to have my own giant food garden one day!  Diane listed her favorite things about this mac and cheese, so here’s what I love about this recipe:

ONE POT! No boiling the macaroni in one pot, draining it in a colander, making the cheese sauce in a pot, putting it into a casserole dish, etc.  I really like this step for Eric because he does the dishes and hates washing the colander.

Stove-top! Hooray!  No hot oven on for an hour in the hot summer afternoon.  Oh yeah, love it on the stove-top.

Healthier! Yeah, this isn’t just healthier than macaroni and cheese from a box, this is healthier than your typical mac and cheese.  Because you cook the macaroni in the milk instead of water, it has a creamy texture that doesn’t require actual cream.  It also only uses about 1 cup of various cheeses, and is light on the butter.  Paula Deen would not approve!

Fast! It only takes about 20 minutes to make, so it’s a perfect meal for when you haven’t planned dinner and want something easy to throw together.  Plus I pretty much always have those ingredients on hand.

A couple important things are to make sure to keep the stove on medium low at the highest.  You don’t want your milk to curdle!  Also, keep stirring!  You want all the macaroni to soak up the milk evenly, so don’t go more than 10 feet from your pot and forget to stir it every 30-60 seconds.  It’s worth the effort, I promise!  Diane also suggests you be creative with the cheeses, I used what I had on hand.  You can do the same!  Growing up, my mom always put tuna and peas in our macaroni and cheese, so to me it’s not mac and cheese without them!  You can give that a try, or add in your own favorites.  I subbed my favorite seasonings (dijon mustard rather than mustard powder, and a little pinch of turmeric which adds flavor and color).  Mac and Cheese is supposed to be fun, so play around with it.

Fast and Easy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

serves 4


2 cups large elbow Macaroni, uncooked
2 cups low fat Milk
if needed, additional 1/4 cup milk for final cooking
1/2 tablespoon Butter
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp turmeric
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup Grated Cheese (I used cheddar, parmesan and gruyere)
1 small can tuna fish


In medium sauce pan, add milk, raw elbow macaroni, butter, mustard, salt, nutmeg, turmeric and pepper.

On medium heat, slowly bring milk/macaroni mixture to a simmer, stirring the macaroni frequently as it comes up to a simmer. This will separate macaroni and keep them from sticking together. DO NOT LEAVE THE STOVE! The milk mixture will come to a boil very quickly and leaving it unattended will leave a big mess on your stove stop.  Once mixture comes to a simmer, immediately turn down heat to LOW. Macaroni will slowly cook in the milk. Having your heat too high will evaporate the milk too quickly!  Continue to stir the mixture frequently so that macaroni will cook evenly and absorb milk evenly. If you don’t stir your mixture frequently, you will get a big clump of macaroni in the end! Stir, stir stir!

Cook for about 15 minutes or until milk has been fully absorbed. At this point, stir in the peas.  If macaroni is not cooked fully, add a little more milk to mixture ( in small amounts) until macaroni is fully cooked. This will take about another 5 minutes.  When milk has evaporated, stir in grated cheese of your choice. Stir the  cheese evenly into the macaroni.

Turn off heat. Place lid on top of pan and cover for about 5 minutes. This rest period will allow macaroni to plump up and absorb any excess milk. Drain the can of tuna and stir it into the macaroni.  Take a final taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, stir one final time to mix everything together.  Serve immediately.

Approximate cost/serving: The cost of this really depends on the cheese you use.  We get ours in BIG blocks so it’s pretty affordable in each dish.  Frozen peas are cheap and so is macaroni .  The total cost of the dish was about $2.75 so divided four ways it’s only 69 cents a serving!

Vegetarian/gluten free: You can definitely make this without tuna.  For gluten free, make sure you use gluten free pasta.

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16 thoughts on “Fifteen Minute Macaroni and Cheese (from scratch!)”

  1. I made it the other night and everybody liked it! You’d asked for my feedback if I used gluten-free noodles. The only problem was that gluten-free noodles tend to be a lot more delicate than regular ones and they don’t hold up to a lot of stirring and handling. Consequently, the noodles started to fall apart a bit by the time it was done. They also took a bit longer to cook and didn’t absorb all the liquid so it was a little soupier than I’d expected. Gluten-free noodles are a Godsend, but they sometimes require some creative fiddling with to work in regular recipes. Oh, and I made about 1 1/2 of the recipe to feed the four of us. It didn’t look like a whole lot of food, but it was VERY filling. My kids aren’t usually filled up after one bowl of anything … but they were with this. Very tasty too. 🙂

  2. Hmm…I wonder if it would be possible to use my “standard” method of cooking pasta with this. Can’t remember where I read this…Frugal Gourmet, mebbe.

    Anyway. You bring your water to a boil and put in your pasta, bring it back to a boil, giving it a stir or two. Cover, take off the burner, and leave it sit for 20 minutes. That’s it. Seems to work with any kind of pasta, and I have only had a problem with it sticking together a couple of times. So I am wondering if it could be done with the milk.

  3. This was sooooooooo amazing! I tried it for the first time tonight and it was honestly some of the best macaroni and cheese I have ever had, and we even made it with skim milk and reduced fat cheese! Thank you so much for posting!

  4. I made this for dinner last night, and while the sauce was delicious, the noodles turned out gummy and still tasted undercooked. Any ideas as to what went wrong?


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