I take macaroni and cheese seriously. Very seriously. In fact when Tina and I first started dating I considered calling our relationship off because she thought Kraft’s mac and cheese was the best things since sliced bread. I don’t know what look transformed my facial features, but Tina’s, “What?!” let me know that I needed to work on my poker face. I told her that I was going to introduce her to real macaroni and cheese and that she’d never want to eat the boxed stuff again. I’m sure she thought I was bougie, but she humored me. After one bite, she quickly realized that she had been missing out on the real deal her whole life.
It is a hobby of mine to try macaroni and cheese to see if it is as good as my mom’s when I go to restaurants, especially the fancy ones. To be fair, I have had very good mac and cheese, but often they try too hard. They add too many different types of cheeses or unnecessary ingredients to a dish that is best when its simplicity is honored.
Despite eating some good mac along the way, my mom’s is still the best! My mom, affectionately called Mama Nae after the birth of her first grandchild, was an amazing woman. I know I will share many stories about her on this blog, but it is appropriate that my very first post about her features her famous macaroni and cheese. My mom was a recipe cook, but I’m pretty sure this recipe was passed down from my grandmother. My love of cooking came from my mother and I remember her going through her many volumes of Southern Living cookbooks to find the perfect dishes for our family’s most special occasions. At each one of these special dinners there was always this macaroni and cheese, a true highlight of the meal.
But you don’t have to wait until Christmas or Easter or a birthday to make this dish. It’s easy to make and can be whipped up quickly after work for a perfect side dish. In fact, Tina was thrilled that I didn’t like pictures I had taken of the dish a few month ago and that I decided to make it again tonight after teaching. She sat patiently as I snapped a few shots and then the moment I put the camera down she dug in to the cheesy goodness with a big smile on her face.
Speaking of Tina, there is a story that I have to tell if I’m going to share this recipe. Again, early on in our relationship, we spent Christmas apart. I went home to North Carolina and Tina went home to Mississippi. My dear, sweet wife is not a cook, but she decided that her gift to her family was cooking a huge spread to celebrate the holiday. She called me and over the phone I recited this recipe for her to transcribe. I clearly told her to add a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper to the béchamel sauce. However, Tina wrote down 1/4 cup. When it came time to cook she actually measured out a 1/4 cup of black pepper and it looked at little odd to her. You think?!
Legend has it that she tried to reach me and my mom, but we were nowhere to be found. So instead of just sprinkling some pepper into the dish or omitting it all together, Tina dumped the whole 1/4 cup of pepper into the béchamel sauce. Til this day I still can’t comprehend why she didn’t throw the whole thing out and start over again when her sauce went from orange to black.
That night, at the dinner she had made for her family, everyone politely declined the gray mac and cheese that was passed around. Everyone… but her father. He took a healthy helping and ate every last bite. Tina found out years later that he didn’t even like macaroni and cheese, not even when it was prepared correctly. That right there, my friends, is pure love! It is also how my wife earned the nickname Quarter Cup.
So now, without further ado, is a macaroni and cheese I know you’ll love! You can’t go wrong…it’s Mama Nae approved!
- 1 - 8 oz. package of elbow macaroni
- 2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (8 oz.)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup unsifted all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Cook macaroni as package label directs; drain.
- Melt butter in medium saucepan; remove from heat.
- Using a whisk, blend in flour.
- Gradually whisk in milk, salt, and pepper.
- Return to medium heat and bring to boil, stirring constantly.
- Boil for 1 minute.
- Add all but 1/4 cup cheese to sauce and stir to melt.
- Pour sauce over macaroni and cheese. Stir to mix.
- Top with remaining cheese.
- Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and browned.
- Pictures feature the recipe doubled.
- Also, you want to use really good extra sharp cheddar cheese. If I'm in a real rush I will shred only a 1/4 cup of cheese and then cut the rest into cubes. It takes a little longer to melt, but not much.