Creamy mac ‘n cheese
Okay so here’s something we probably all had growing up, before we started growing out: Mac 'n cheese.
What is less healthful, and more fattening than a plateful of ridiculously creamy, luscious mac 'n cheese? Not much, except maybe a couple hot dogs, with a plateful of french fries, and deep-fried Twinkies. And maybe some fried bologna, like they used to serve with mac 'n cheese in the Sanford High School cafeteria. I used that slab of grossness to carve funny faces in. :-) My art teacher, Hazel Harrison, loved them.
I really do try to avoid foods like mac 'n cheese, except on Christmas, when my sister-in-law, Kerry, makes it. Her recipe is CREAMY mac 'n cheese. You think plain old mac 'n cheese is creamy? Wait till you try this one.
Kerry said this recipe came from a woman from Boothbay Harbor – but she doesn’t remember who. I honestly don’t care. I’m just glad I now have it in my recipe box.
I haven’t had it since last Christmas, but of course now I have to make it, as I had to have a photo for this column. Then, of course, I’ll have to eat it. Bummer huh.
By the way, when I Googled mac 'n cheese I was dumbfounded by the number or recipes for this simple, if good, old American favorite. And when you Google ORIGINS of mac 'n cheese – ready for this? What pops up is the origins of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
Cliffordawright.com says: “Since the Kraft Company put it in a box in 1937 every American kid grew up with macaroni and cheese.” Yikes. That’s a little disquieting. The bright orange make-believe cheesy sauce in that stuff was downright scary.
But apparently that has changed. Here’s something from a 2015 Washington Post story in 2015, with the headline, “Kraft Mac & Cheese is losing its orange glow.”
Was that stuff really America’s introduction to this dish?? Recipe: Dump contents from cardboard box, add water, stir.
Anyway. It seems the true origins of mac 'n cheese are Italian, and that there are recipes for it from southern Italy, from the 13th century. One of them called for two-inch flat squares of pasta tossed with grated Parmesan cheese, which sounds kind of yummy.
But American macaroni and cheese, by one account, started as a casserole at a New England church supper. And really, when you think about it, it is a casserole. A meal baked in a dish, right? Oh god. Now I have to Google casseroles. Ugh.
“A casserole is a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself called a casserole dish or casserole pan.” – Wikipedia
Another story is that Thomas Jefferson came back from a trip to Italy with a pasta machine, and one night his daughter, Mary Randolph, whipped up a dish of macaroni and Parmesan cheese.
At some point the Parmesan cheese recipe morphed into cheddar cheese.
My mother is a great cook, and even with four skinny, unappreciative kids and one appreciative husband to cook for, she rarely, if ever, opted for the simplicity of prepackaged meals. Even on weekdays when she’d be off skiing while the rest of us toiled at school or my father’s store, Thayer/Diggery Co., she’d cook a great dinner.
Sometimes it would happen a little later than we wished, though. Picture this: Dad and four skinny kids sitting around an empty table, and the door opens. There she is: A beautiful, tan face with a huge white smile, holding skis and poles. “Best day ever!” she’d say. It was always the best day ever. Always.
Then she’d head to the kitchen. It was hard to be resentful.
So here’s Kerry’s/some anonymous old woman’s recipe for Creamy Mac 'n Cheese:
Make a roux with 1 tblsp. butter and 1 tblsp. flour: Melt butter in pan (let it brown a little) and stir in flour over low heat. Stir for a few minutes to cook the flour. Slowly stir in a cup of whole milk. Cut up a 10 oz. hunk of sharp cheddar cheese and throw in. Stir while it melts. If it’s after five this will be a good time to sip a manhattan. Spoon in one hand, manhattan in the other, watching the cheese melt :-).
Meanwhile get another pot of salted water boiling and throw in 1 ½ cups macaroni. Cook about half the normal time, as you’ll be cooking again in a casserole. You remember what a casserole is, right?
Strain the mac (duh), and throw all together into a buttered baking dish, with a 1 lb. container of small curd cottage cheese. I spent around 10 minutes staring at the cottage cheese display at Hannaford looking for a small curd one, before I snapped to and just grabbed one that is probably large curd.
As I will probably have downed the manhattan by the time I get to that part I won’t care anyway.
Mix some bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle that over the top. The more the better as far as I’m concerned. Bake for around 35 minutes at 350.
Make it tonight. It’ll be the best dinner ever. Or at least today.
P.S. Re: My mother always saying, “Best day ever!” Sue Witt claims that I call everything I cook the best food ever. Guess I’m a chip off the ol’ block.
P.P.S. Thanks to John Spencer I had my first manhattan with a Luxardo cherry while making the mac 'n cheese. OMG! Thanks John!
See ya next week!