The Ultimate, Go-To Mac & Cheese Casserole Recipe

When it comes to mac-n-cheese, I confess I don’t make it with milk and flour. My go-to macaroni and cheese recipe is based on an old Southern Living recipe that uses cream of celery soup, but I often mix it up to make it my own. I also switch it up based on what I may have on hand. For instance, I have used plain yogurt instead of sour cream. Still, the original recipe is delicious. It pairs well with any meat dish, such as steaks, pork loin or pork chops, or sausage. I’ve also served it with venison steaks. It’s great as a side for a cookout and is also a nice match for BBQ. Start with this and consider your own variations.

“Jack in the Macaroni Bake”

Southern Living, February 1994


  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz. of elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons or margarine
  • 1/4 cub chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped sweet red pepper
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of celery soup
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • chili powder

Original Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook macaroni according to directions, drain, rinse and set aside. On stovetop, melt butter in Dutch over, add diced onion and pepper. Saute over medium heat until tender. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, sour cream and soup. Fold in cooked macaroni. Spoon into a greased 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle with chili powder. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

My basic version means substituting with the following:

  • 1 tablespoon butter paired with 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • add a diced jalapeno (small) with the diced red bell pepper
  • you can switch out the cream of celery with cream of mushroom
  • you can use plain yogurt instead of sour cream
  • I prefer paprika and Cajun seasoning to chili powder, and I like to sprinkle them in a criss-cross fashion for a spice latticework across the top of the casserole

This mac & cheese is classic comfort food. It keeps well in the fridge, but won’t likely last past a second night. I really love it with sweet onion and jalapeno. As for variations, try not to exceed the measurements for the onion and pepper because the base — soup, cheese and sour cream — needs to hold together and any excess with the other ingredients could interfer with that binding with the pasta. I did manage to fold in a little bit of chopped, sauteed kale.

The classic Jake in the Macaroni bake with a bit of kale interlaced with the pasta.

The classic Jake in the Macaroni bake with a bit of kale interlaced with the pasta.

You can make with other short pastas, such as penne, but I am finding that elbow macaroni might just work the best.

This is a stable of my cooking repertoire and a really great centerpiece for entertaining. It’s great for serving to family or anyone you want to feel like family in your home.

Enjoy! Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

These notes were taken from an old copy at my grandmother's home back in the '90s

My notes transcribed from a Southern Living magazine at my grandmother’s home.