As seen on TV: Marion’s Creamy Mac and Cheese with Tarragon

by Terry B on January 12, 2011

Macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods. This no-bake version delivers that comfort quickly, with a creamy finish and a slight kick. Recipe below.


Marion’s in the kitchen again this week—and not just ours, but at Chicago TV station WCIU. They recently featured three home cooks making mac and cheese on their morning show, You & Me This Morning, and Marion was one of them! I’ll let her tell you about her creamy mac and cheese—and her TV appearance!

I was already having a very nice birthday when Terry got an email from WCIU saying, we like your blog and we are doing a segment on local cooks’ macaroni and cheese recipes and will your wife be on our morning show? WCIU is one of the last locally owned and operated TV stations, period, with a low-key, welcoming morning show called You & Me This Morning and, really, when they asked, how could we say no? Because, as the hosts, Melissa Forman and Jeanne Sparrow, said, what is a more comforting food than macaroni and cheese? And cooks everywhere have their own versions, and are adamant about them.

as-seen-on-tvWell, you know, that’s pretty true for me. I admire other macaroni and cheese recipes, but in the end I always make one fundamentally like this, which is distinct because it is not baked but creamy. I first started using this very elemental approach when our kids were little and their friends were always over, often miraculously appearing right at dinnertime. This dish is what happens when you have a houseful of kids who need to be fed, and soon, and who has time to go out and pick up food, and who knows what’s in that takeout stuff anyway?

Of course, the recipe can be tailored in many ways. You can multiply the quantities, endlessly. You can change up the herbs. If you really hate spiciness, cut down the quantity of hot sauce. Over the years we’ve made this with all sorts of cheeses (if you can find sharp Pinconning cheese, wow! and some time, try it with brie, seriously—not for the children but for yourself). The one thing I would not change is the dry mustard. It doesn’t impart a mustardy taste; the effect is subtle, but you really shouldn’t leave it out.

The whole point of this recipe is that this is inexpensive, accessible, with ingredients that are widely available, and it can be made very quickly (in about half an hour, less time than it takes for you to run out for fast food or wait for the pizza to arrive). Because it is not baked, it has a soothing creaminess. In memory of my mother (who thought that any pale savory dish should have a sprinkling of paprika on it) it also includes a last-minute garnish of paprika—so little that you don’t really taste it, but it gives the whole a pretty finish. Thanks, Ma.

And by the way, you know how, when you see hosts on a talk show, and they seem so nice and sweet, and you wonder what they really are like? Well, at WCIU, the answer is: even nicer live than on TV. Jean and Melissa, the hosts, were welcoming and friendly and smart and lovely, and every single person behind the scenes was that way too. It was a pleasure to meet Danyel and Anthony, my fellow cooks. The whole thing was just a lot, lot, lot of fun. And I got to show off on TV. How’s that for a birthday present?

Marion’s Creamy Mac and Cheese with Tarragon
Serves three or four adults

4 tablespoons flour
2-3/4 cup whole milk or half and half (for extra creaminess)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces Parmesan, freshly grated (about one cup)
6 ounces extra sharp cheddar, grated (about three cups, the sharper the better)
black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce (we prefer Cholula brand)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon, divided
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
3 cups uncooked dry pasta (for this recipe, I used pennette, but any macaroni or other small tubular pasta will do)

First, put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Add a dash of salt to the water. When the water begins a full rolling boil, pour in the pasta, stir to make sure it isn’t sticking together and lower the heat to a nice simmer. To time the pasta, check the package and set a timer to make sure you don’t overcook the type you’ve chosen.

Next, put the butter and oil in a large nonstick skillet and heat it over a medium flame. When the butter has melted, begin making the roux: Scatter the flour around and blend it all together, using a heatproof spatula (a silicone one is ideal). The idea is to coat every particle of flour with oil so that, when the flour begins to expand during cooking, it won’t form awful globs in your sauce.  Once everything is blended together, continue stirring with the spatula until the roux begins to brown—you are aiming for a light caramel color and just the beginning of that wonderful popcorn-butter smell.

When the roux is lightly toasted, pour in the milk all at once and begin to whisk it. (I recommend using a very flexible silicone-coated or nylon whisk.) Stir and whisk until the roux is well incorporated into the liquid. At this point, grind some black pepper into the sauce, then add the salt, dry mustard, hot sauce and the 1 T of fresh tarragon. Whisk again.

At this point, check your pasta. It should be almost done. When it is ready, drain it into a colander and run it under hot water so it doesn’t stick together, then let it drain in the colander while you finish the sauce.

The best way to thicken the sauce is to work over medium-high heat, stirring and keeping a watchful eye to avoid boiling. When the sauce starts to thicken, then add all the cheese, lower the heat, and stir the cheese into the sauce. When the cheese is nicely melted into the sauce, give the pasta a stir in case there is any extra water lurking among the noodles, then pour the pasta into the sauce. Stir it all together well.

Spoon the mac and cheese into a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining 1 teaspoon of fresh tarragon. Then at the last, sprinkle paprika lightly over the top.

Serve right away with a simply dressed salad.


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

The Rowdy Chowgirl January 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Mmm, beautiful. I’ve never seen Pinconning cheese here in Seattle–I wonder if it’s a regional specialty?

Cynthia Fox-Giddens January 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm

These recipes are so yummy and very down home. I need to try my hand at these besides from the box :-)

altadenahiker January 12, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Oh, my lord, I’m starving. Marion, you’re gorgeous. Let me know when you and Terry get your own show.

Marion January 12, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Chowgirl, you are correct. Pinconning originates in Pinconning, Michigan, a tiny town about 120 miles straight north of Detroit, and doesn’t travel very far from there. It’s a Colby type cheese and is mmmmmm.

Cynthia, I hope you do! It really is not much more complicated or time consuming than the box stuff and, of course, your own cooking is always more delicious.

Altadenahiker, awww, thank you. Also, dinner hasn’t happened here yet and now I’m starving too.

Mimi January 13, 2011 at 12:37 am

Marion, to me a simple dish brought to a higher level is sheer elegance. In this case, the cook herself is very elegant, too. What a fun experience!

I will certainly try this, although here on the border of UPPER Michigan, we probably cannot find Pinconning cheese.

Marion January 13, 2011 at 1:11 am

Mimi, thank you! If you have a big ol’ Meijer in your vicinity, you might be able to find sharp Pinconning there, in the fancy cheese case (not in the everyday dairy section). That’s the one store where we can reliably find it in all of northern Illinois.

Carol January 13, 2011 at 1:54 am

Hi Marion — more video! This was great, really fun to see you, cooking, talking about cooking, sharing the cooking. My own mac & cheese journey started with Kraft but progressed when I lived in England — No Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! So I learned to make my own. ‘Haven’t thought of that in many a moon. Thanks for a super, super post. Really, more video, you’re a natural.

patty marotto January 13, 2011 at 2:22 am

Dear Terry and of course Marion,

How fun was that? Especially on your B day. Marion you look great cooking on TV/Video. I will try your receipe….sounds fun but very grown-up. Love it. Thanks to you both for your wonderful blog. I look forward to Wednesdays and Blue Kitchen. I have always loved Terry’s wit and he always had good stories about the love of his life Marion.

Best wishes for continued success in 2011

Ronnie Ann January 13, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Loved the video; waiting for the movie. Oh Marion…you are so good at this. I just love your quick & elegant take on one of my favorite comfort foods. I add my voice to those clamoring for more. Now if we can only get Terry to do that with you!

Mimi January 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Oh, and Happy Birthday, belatedly, too, Marion. I forgot to mention how much I love the serving dish in the photo.

(Hi Ronnie Ann! Just recommended your web site to a friend.)

Marion January 14, 2011 at 3:52 am

Thank you, Carol. We are thinking about ways to do more video.

Hi, Patty, thank you so much – it’s been a long time.

Ronnie, golly, thank you. I agree – Terry would be so wonderful.

And thanks again, Mimi. That is one of our more venerable dishes.

Shauna January 16, 2011 at 5:49 am

Thumbs up!!!

Alana D January 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Ok firstly this looks amazing,I wanna try it.Secondly I was born and raised in Detroit never ever heard of Pinconning MI.Great post!

Marion January 17, 2011 at 12:45 am

Thanks, Shauna. Many’s the time Ian had this, back in the day.

Alana, you were born in Detroit? I was born in Detroit! And thank you – I hope you enjoy this!

Alana D January 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Actually from Highland Park,but becase HP is surrounded by Detroit..Just discovered your blog and I quite enjoy it.

ellen January 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Right on Marion. You did a fab job!! I can’t wait to make this recipe.
How cool!!

ellen January 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm


Marion, you are a superstar. What a great job you did!! Right on and what a thrill.

Cheers! Now I’ve gotta go make your recipe.

Marion January 19, 2011 at 12:50 am

Alana, cool! And welcome! I love your tag line: “An enigma wrapped in bacon and seared with garlic” – that’s just great!

Thank you, Ellen – I hope you like it!

Michelle January 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm

this mac n cheese looks so amazing. i would have never thought about pairing tarragon and mac n cheese.

Katie January 28, 2011 at 2:36 am

WOW! Congrats on the tv segment!

Oh, and the mac looks incredible, of course. :)

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