Mom’s Homemade Mac’N’Cheese

Not a cooking blog, yeah, I remember.  It’s just that when people ask me for a recipe, I have to write it all out anyway– why *wouldn’t* I make it a blog post?  It doesn’t have to be for just one person this way, I can share with everybody.  My friend Julie requested the instructions for this particular dish, and because the feedback is always excellent on it, I’m fairly certain that she’s not the only one that would like to have it.  It’s a win, ya’ll, I promise.

Mac Attack

Mac Attack

Now, you may remember I have issues with following recipes– like a lot.  It’s not that I’m mean or trying to be deceptive, it’s just that sometimes I don’t have the exact ingredients, or I suspect that the addition of something may help….  this ultimately means that even though the base of this is my mother’s actual recipe, I’ve tweaked it juuuuuust a liiiiittle bit, to make it the consistency I prefer to my mac.  Nora’s recipe (that’s my mom, ya’ll) is of the type that can be cut out of the dish like a cube of yum, and it retains its shape on the plate.  I actually prefer that type to the loose, super-creamy, self-leveling stuff, I do.  But ultimately, if given the real choice of all possible mac worlds– I’d like it cut neatly from the dish, plate beautifully, but be soft and saucy enough that just the slightest probing from the fork causes it to fall apart.  I’d like there to be a little bit of crunch on the top, but the overall texture has to be dreamy-creamy-cheesy.

Mine has some ‘extra’ stuff (mainly cream cheese) in it to make it even creamier than my mom’s, and for the crunch, I like to use panko instead of Nora’s choice of Italian breadcrumbs.  They crisp up so very perfectly, they’re almost like crackers up there.  But really, this is her recipe, just changed a little for the way we like it.

I’m going to admit upfront that this recipe is….  Southern.  Delicious.  Rich.  That means that it’s not good for you in any way, and not something you should be consuming on the regulars.  It’s also a little bit labor-intensive, and requires dirtying more than pot.  That’s a good reason for it to be a holiday recipe around here (as it is at my parents’ place), and in true holiday form, this recipe makes a lot.  A lot-lot.    It’s a really good one to take to potlucks and family dinners, and it freezes well.  You can make it ahead and just heat it up, which I love about it.  I guess I’m saying, it’s worth the work.  It’s real yummy, ya’ll.

My mother approves of my changes.  In fact, when I served it to the family a couple of Christmases ago, Nora said, (and I quote) “This may actually be better than MY macaroni and cheese.”  To which my father responded quite diplomatically, “Well, I won’t confirm or deny that statement, but suffice it to say– this is some DAMN FINE mac’n’cheese!”  (Everybody laughed, and nodded their head in agreement.)

So.  A few last things.  To minimize the effort and time involved in this one, I have streamlined as much of this process as possible.  This means that I juggle quite a bit– as my water is boiling for my pasta, I am also melting butter and whisking in ingredients to make a roux in a sautee pan.  I recommend pulling all of your ingredients out onto the counter before you begin, start softening your cream cheese, mince your garlic if you don’t buy it pre-done, and grate your cheddar.

Oh, and– you *have* to grate the cheddar.  No, you can’t just buy the shredded stuff, sorry.  Not this time.  I mean, you can– and I do– for that top layer of cheddar jack, the one that holds up your breadcrumbs, but not the stuff that goes into the cheese sauce that forms your binder.  Lord, I would really just love to skip the shredding myself, but in this case it is actually really, really important.  You see, the cheese that comes pre-done and bagged by Big Cheese is tossed in a cornstarch mixture to keep it from sticking together.  That is all well and fine if you are putting it on your tacos, but the problem here is that it messes with the consistency of your sauce.  As you know, cornstarch is a thickener, and once you get your sauce perfect, and you’re doing that last step of whisking in and melting your cheeses, well, that stuff that’s preshred is gonna muck with the texture of your roux.  You seriously don’t want that.  You don’t!  Just do like I do– I buy a huge block of the cheddar I want (sharp!) and I shred it in my cuisinart.  Zippity-chew-dah, it does it like that!  Yeah, you have to wash the processor, but it’s muuuuch easier than doing it all by hand (and no grated fingernails), and I get it done really quickly.  And most importantly, my cheese sauce turns out perfect every time.  That’s what it’s about!

Ready To Eat

Southern Style Baked Macaroni and Cheese– So Delicious!

Mom’s Homemade Mac’N’Cheese

1 lb box of elbow macaroni
1 stick of butter (1/4 cup)
1/2 (or just a little more) cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
8 oz block of cream cheese, softened
16 oz block of cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
2 tsp minced garlic* (I buy mine jarred and pre-minced.)
2 TBSP prepared yellow mustard* (just the classic stuff you put on hot dogs)
2 cups or so water reserved from cooking the pasta (you may not need all of this)
2 cup bag of colby jack (for toppin’)
panko breadcrumbs (sorry, I didn’t even try to measure!  About a cup?)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
non-stick spray for my dish

* this may seem like a lot of those things, but it will be a HUGE amount of mac it’s flavoring.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Coat your largest casserole dish with non-stick spray.  (This dish pictured is HUGE, like bigger than your standard 9×13 casserole.)

Start a large stockpot for your pasta, salting the water fairly liberally.

In a second sautee pan, melt your butter over med-low heat.

In a heatproof measuring cup, microwave your milk for just a short while to heat it.  This will help it assimilate into your sauce more easily.  (I have a super-high watt mic, so I did only about 45 seconds.)  You don’t want to scald your milk, just heat it up a little so that it’s not going in cold.

Once your water has come to a boil, add your pasta, and follow cooking instructions.  Before you drain it, don’t forget to remove a couple of cups of hot cooking water.

When your butter has completely liquified, sprinkle in your flour, and whisk fairly quickly to incorporate, trying to remove all lumps.  We’re going to gently cook this mixture for just a few minutes, to try and remove the flour flavor from the base.  Stir it every so often, and keep an eye on it.

Once that has turned a light golden color, whisk in your cup of warm milk, stirring to incorporate.

Add your flavorings– the garlic, the mustard, a couple of hefty pinches of kosher salt, a fair amount of pepper.

Divide your block of cream cheese into quarters to facilitate greater meltage, and add it to your sauce mixture, stirring occasionally to help that happen.  It will be all sneaky and get really thick really quickly– like amazingly quickly– so at this point, I begin to mix in a little bit of the hot pasta water at a time, just eyeballing splashes and wisking to smooth it out.

When most of your cream cheese has melted in, you can incorporate the parmesean and cheddar you shredded, again adding in the eyeballed splashes of hot pasta water and stirring to incorporate until smooth.  What you have at this point should be decadently creamy, and you can taste it to adjust for salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat.

Your pasta should be getting done at this point (or a little before now), and is likely sitting and steaming, drained in the colander in the sink, yes?

Fold your pasta into your cheese sauce, and spread that gooey mess into your casserole dish.  You could eat it just like this, as it’s all completely cooked, but you shouldn’t– you’ve come so far!  Bake it like this Southern girl says you should!

Top with your bag of cojack or colby, distributing evenly, and then top that with your panko.

Pop it into your heated oven and bake until atomic and bubbly, about a half an hour.  Serve to the people you love, but after a proper cooling time, of course.  We’re not trying to *scald* our dear ones.  I recommend pairing it with some kind of green veggie, especially one dressed in something acidic, to cut some of the creamy richness.  I like that Summer sweet-and-sour marinated cucumber and onion ‘salad’ that we do so much in the South.  Yum.

So tell me, was it worth the work?  Did you eat it until you hurt, like I do every time?  (Sorry about that.)

 

 


Apr 24, 2014 | Category: Recipe | Comments: none | Tags: , , , , , ,

 


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