January isn’t for diets. Especially not this January, with COVID cases at an all-time high and so many of us (my family included) in isolation.

If you’re feeling rundown, but still have an appetite (as I’ve heard from many COVID sufferers so far), comfort food seems to be the way to go.

When I think of childhood comfort food, I don’t have the Irish love for a fry-up or bacon and cabbage with mash – my mind automatically goes to mac and cheese.

I grew up on the Canadian boxed kind, Kraft Dinner, but sometimes my mom, who was busy as a full-time teacher - hence the boxed version dinners - would make it from scratch, to the delight of

When I moved away from home, this was one of the first recipes I mastered. You can make it for one person or 20.

You can personalise it and add in your favourite ingredients (I love broccoli and crispy bacon in mine) and, most importantly, a homemade mac and cheese always provides the comfort and flavour I crave when I’m feeling under the weather.

Once you master the basic recipe, you can add in your own favourite ingredients - such as crispy bacon, spinach and broccoli or roasted chicken. / Janine Kennedy

Now is a great time to be making mac and cheese, especially if you have lots of leftover cheese from Christmas. Get inventive and use up some of those cheeses!

If I’m combining cheeses for my mac and cheese, I usually mix something soft (such as cream cheese or soft goat cheese) with a sharp cheddar, nutty Parmesan or mild, creamy Gouda.

If you’re using all Irish cheeses, I would recommend something like Derg cheddar or Bo Rua cheddar with a mild cream cheese. Or go crazy and use Young Buck blue cheese!

The world is your oyster once you master the basic method.

Janine's basic mac and cheese

When it's finished baking, the breadcrumb topping should be crunchy and the mac and cheese should be well-seasoned. / Janine Kennedy

Serves 10-12


1 box/package dried macaroni (500g)

125g butter

80g plain flour

1l full fat milk

1 tsp garlic powder (optional)

1 tsp paprika (optional)

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper, to taste

500g grated leftover cheese - cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, Parmesan, etc.

For the breadcrumb topping:

200g old, stale bread

60g melted butter

Pinch of salt and pepper


  • 1 Make the breadcrumb topping: in a food processor, pulse the stale bread until it is a consistency you like (I like my breadcrumbs on the chunky side) - you can also use 200g store-bought breadcrumbs. Add to a bowl and drizzle over the melted butter. Toss to completely coat the bread, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • 2 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente, as per the package directions (around 10 minutes). Strain and set aside.
  • 3 Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  • 4 Heat a large saucepan over medium and melt the butter. When it starts to bubble, add the flour and, using a whisk or wooden spoon, mix continuously so the mixture doesn't burn. Mix for about one minute, then add half the milk. Whisk to combine and, when it thickens and turns gluey, add the remaining milk.
  • 5 Slowly and continuously whisk the milk mixture as it heats and thickens. The perfect consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (see video). When this consistency is reached, remove the saucepan from the heat.
  • 6 Season the white sauce with Dijon, salt, pepper and the optional spices, if using. Add three-quarters of the cheese and mix until the cheese is melted. Check the cheese sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary.
  • 7 Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and fold the pasta into the sauce with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once well combined, add the mac and cheese mixture to a large casserole dish.
  • 8 Smooth the mac and cheese into the casserole dish and generously sprinkle the breadcrumb topping over the top.
  • 9 Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the breadcrumb topping is crunchy and golden brown and the cheese sauce is bubbling around the edges.
  • 10 Serve hot or cool and refrigerate for up to four days.
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