Saturday, September 04, 2010

Home Cooking: Family Favorite

When I was growing up our extended family used to get together quite often for meals. Sometimes these gatherings were for summer picnics, others for holiday meals. It seemed like every Sunday we had either Bob or Sue or Don and their families over for dinner. Mother seemed to do much of the cooking those early years, but as she aged Jan, Sue, and Sandra pitched in with their own specialties to add to the meal, and eventually they did most of the cooking. But that didn’t matter. Mom still had her hand in making at least one dish, one that was always a family favorite and something at least one grandkid would request—Grandma’s homemade Macaroni and Cheese!

Yep, good old mac & cheese. It got to the point that this dish was so popular, and there were so many grandkids, that Mom would have to make at least two dishes to even come close to satisfying the demand. Was that possible?

There really is no great secret to making my mother’s mac & cheese. I do it all the time with just as much success at my house. I’ve learned to bake mine in at least a 9x12 glass pan because my sons love it, and at least two of them get really upset if they can’t have third servings with a little bit left over for a late night snack.

So, here’s how easy it is to make my mother’s homemade macaroni and cheese.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. I often put in a few potatoes to bake at the same time, and maybe a meatloaf as well.

Boil a large pot of water, adding salt to it to keep the pot from boiling over. Okay, the tough part here is knowing how much salt to add, I guess. It’s more than a pinch, less than a handful, and that’s as specific as I can get. There needs to be about a dime size of salt on the bottom of the pan when you get the water started. Add too much salt and you won’t be able to eat the macaroni because it will be too salty.

My trick for making this at home is to add 1 cup of uncooked macaroni for each person I plan to feed. Obviously if I’m taking this dish to a party, I just boil enough to make what I need for a baking dish.

While the macaroni is cooking (stir it occasionally), get out your baking dish. Mom used a deep, square piece of Corningware for hers in later years, but when I was young she used a set of blue baking dishes she had. As I recall, Connie has those dishes now and taught her own daughter, Madison, how to make this much-requested dish.

Coat the inside of the baking dish with margarine. If you’re still operating in the I-must-do-everything-myself stage, I hope you’ve already grated a big chunk of sharp cheddar cheese. If you’re like me, you need a pre-shredded bag of your favorite brand. (We once discovered too late in the game that we only had a bag of taco-flavored cheese at home. It was interesting, but likely not one we’d ever do again.) Sprinkle a solid coating in the bottom and along the sides of the buttered pan. The butter should help it stick to the sides.

Check the macaroni. If it’s really tender, then it’s ready. Drain the water as much as possible, using a strainer to get the majority of water off the macaroni. Then pour the macaroni onto the bed of cheese. If you’re making a deep dish then only put half the macaroni in, add a center layer of cheese and add the rest.

Once the macaroni layer is done, add a little salt to the top of the dish if needed for taste (you can check this by eating a single piece of macaroni). Pour 1 cup of milk over the dish, spreading the milk around as you do so. Then top the whole thing off with your remaining cheese. Be sure to cover all the macaroni so nothing burns. (Although Chan does like the edges of his macaroni crispy!) Sprinkle black pepper on the top if your entire family likes it. If not, people can add it once the food is on their plate.

Put the dish into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.

Once it’s done, serve it hot. If you’ve got leftovers, you can choose if you want it hot or cold.

One word of warning, if your family is anything like mine, this will become a family favorite and you’ll be making it regularly for Sunday dinner and bringing it to family gatherings. It’s a good thing macaroni and cheese is so easy to make!

1 comment:

Sherry of IN said...

I just read your recipe for homemade baked mac & cheese. We have similar recipes from our moms. We use the mild cheddar cheese - it tends not to get watery then. Mom always said to boil the milk before pouring over the mac/cheese for baking. 1 other thing - we usually put macaroni on the bottom (it won't stick to the glass dish) then the layer of cheese, slightly salted, butter, then another layer of macaroni, cheese, etc. I like cheese on top for that crunchy part also!!!! Similar recipes - just different cheeses - LOL!!!!

Oh, I know just use the spray margarine (Pam, or something similar) to coat the inside of the dish - makes it easier to clean (unless you forget) - LOL!!!