Making Use of the Balcony Garden: Macaroni and Cheese with Fresh Herbs

by thefamilyfoodblog

I grew up thinking I didn’t like cheese. My friends and I pretty much took that as fact during my childhood – one friend even theorized that I was borderline lactose intolerant. (We were both a little skeptical of “borderline lactose intolerance” actually being a thing, but how else would you explain that I didn’t like cheese but had to have my cereal and milk every day?)

Anyway. What I learned, one fine day in high school – when I tasted smoked gouda for the first time, on top of a water cracker, at a hotel in Monterey Bay – was that what I didn’t like was not in fact cheese, but cheese singles. Two very different things, as I came to find out. (Kraft, how you ruined me.) The same thing happened with macaroni and cheese a few years later: I learned that the real stuff was actually pretty delicious.

So when a recent trip to Costco left me with a brick-sized block of aged English cheddar, it was a no-brainer to make my own macaroni and cheese. I came across this recipe on the bus ride home from work yesterday and decided to adapt it to the ingredients we had and liked. I also cut down the butter and cheese a little to make it healthier.


  • 8 oz whole-wheat elbow macaroni (about half a box)
  • 6 medium Shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped with stems removed
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped herbs of your choice (I used oregano, lemon thyme, and rosemary)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • olive oil or cooking spray to grease the baking dish
  • salt and black pepper


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s melted, whisk in the flour and mix for several seconds until bubbly. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring often to avoid lumps.

When the mixture starts to thicken and form bubbles (about 5 minutes), add in the cheese, herbs, mustard, and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat down to low and continue stirring until the cheese melts. Remove from heat and toss with the macaroni and mushrooms.

Toss the pasta and mushrooms with the cheese sauce. (Taste this, too – it’s delicious!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease the baking dish and pour in the pasta mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Use more or less breadcrumbs to suit your taste. If you’d like, sprinkle more fresh herbs over the breadcrumb topping.

Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

We countered the richness of the macaroni and cheese with a simple salad of spinach leaves, walnuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.