Even though I nixed the Velveeta, there is still SO MUCH cheese in this recipe! This is one of those dinners that you only make on occasion or if someone is in need of some serious comfort food. This meal is certainly not high on the list of healthiest dinners ever, but it is worth all those extra calories every now and then!
Just look at all of that melty cheesy goodness! Feel free to change up the cheeses to whatever your family likes. I would definitely at least keep the cheddar, but if you like a different combo of cheese, go for it. Sometimes I like to do half colby jack and half gouda instead of just one or the other and sometimes I put in pretty much all cheddar. The American cheese helps take place of all the Velveeta in the original recipe (yes I know, it is still processed, but it is only a few slices) and it adds that creaminess that I just can't recreate without it. You can absolutely leave it out if it isn't your thing.
The recipe is actually pretty flexible overall. You can use any short cut pasta that you want; elbows, shells, rotini, bowties, gemelli, etc. If you don't have chicken broth on hand, just substitute with all milk. You can use lower fat milk, though the sauce will be somewhat less creamy. You can leave the ham out. You can change the spice mixture up to whatever you like or even change out the Ritz crackers for breadcrumbs or top with an extra layer of cheese instead. Take this recipe base and make it your own.
Macaroni and Cheese with Ham
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp seasoned salt (i.e. Lawry's)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
5-6 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 cups whole milk
6oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
6 oz monterey jack, colby jack cheese or gouda, shredded
~5 slices American cheese
1 1/2 cups diced ham
Approx. 15 Ritz crackers
1 box (1 lb) elbow noodles
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook noodles according to package directions for "al dente" cooked pasta. While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute. You want to make sure to cook the raw flavor out of the flour. Add the spices, the worcestershire sauce and then whisk in the cold milk until the mixture is smooth.
Bring the sauce to a boil over medium high heat, whisking constantly until thickened. This will take maybe five minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses. Drain the noodles extremely well and combine with the cheese sauce and diced ham. It is important for the noodles and ham to be as dry as possible so that the cheese sauce does not separate and become grainy. I usually pat the ham (and sometimes the noodles too) with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Top the mac and cheese with the crushed crackers.
If your skillet is large enough and oven proof you can mix everything together in the one pan and put into a preheated 350°F oven for 20 minutes. If your skillet is not large enough, transfer to a 9x13 casserole dish to bake. Do not add the cracker topping until after you have transferred to the casserole dish. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.