Mac’ n’ cheese mistakes and redemption
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. My family always spent the holiday with the Colemans – my uncle, aunt and cousins. Together, the two families totaled 11 people, five in our family and six in theirs; and all the children were close in age. They would come visit us in Mississippi for Thanksgiving, and we would turn around and visit them during Christmas and New Years every year.
Those were honestly some of the best moments of my childhood. So, Thanksgiving has remained my favorite holiday by default, just because of the memories it holds. And the food. The food is definitely part of what makes the holiday special!
When I think about Thanksgiving foods, so many things come to mind. Turkey, ham, mac’n’cheese, collard greens, mashed potatoes, mom’s spoon cornbread, dad’s yellow cake, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, my aunt’s chocolate delight… Sorry, I got carried away. I could burst right now.
I even fondly remember the horrid smell of chitterlings simmering on the stovetop – when that smell permeated the house, that meant is was time to go outside and play.
As I grew older and moved away from home, I would still go back to Mississippi during Thanksgiving and spend the weekend with my family. But one of the great things about getting older is when you start getting invited to company dinners or those dinners for groups you belong to – that’s when you get the chance to reveal a little bit of your culture to people that may not know your history.
Now… years ago, before life with Joha, I prided myself in my ability to cook. I wasn’t the greatest chef, and I knew that; but I’ve always had a knack for putting great flavors together.
My mother began teaching me how to cook when I was about 8-years-old. She started with breakfast foods – eggs, bacon, grits, biscuits – and gradually graduated my brother and me to more complicated, and more delicious, foods.
By 13, I, along with my brother (who is two years older) were able to plan and cook dinner for the family. In fact, as a homeschooling family, my mother incorporated it into the curriculum. Home Economics lesson of the week – cook the family dinner; then wash the dishes once you’re finished. My mother is a genius. An evil genius.
Back to the story - Well, a few years ago, I was invited to one of those Thanksgiving dinners with a group from my church. And though I had only ever made mac’n’cheese from the box, I signed up to bring the mac. But I wanted to do it like grandma used to make … I, however, didn’t have a recipe to go off of. I made the prideful mistake of thinking I could just make up a recipe, not knowing the techniques that existed for making a homemade baked mac’n’cheese. I understand that famous proverb, “pride comes before the fall.”
We’ve all had those special “kitchen fails,” right? It’s not just me? And the worst part was, I didn’t even realize how bad my mistake was until much later.
I cooked a pot of macaroni, buttered it and seasoned it beautifully with salt and a little pepper, garlic powder and onion powder and some herbs; then I grated cheddar and mozzarella cheeses into it before sprinkling some bread crumbs on top and sticking it in the oven.
I thought that’s how it was done.
Some of you might be reading this knowing the problem right away, while others might be saying, “hmm … that doesn’t sound bad.”
That’s because you – just like I didn’t – probably don’t know the right way to do it.
I mean, it was technically, as the name suggests, macaroni and cheese, but it wasn’t right. And nobody touched it at the dinner party. Not even me. But I didn’t know what I had done wrong – and didn’t care to look it up – until a couple of years later when I decided to try my hand at making mac’n’cheese for my family’s Thanksgiving in Mississippi.
This time, I knew I had to do it right, so I looked up several recipes and I saw the error of my ways. I hadn’t added the creamy-factor! For those that know, you know! The creaminess of mac’n’cheese is what makes it what it is!
This time around, I made it perfectly … and the fam actually told me it might be the best mac’n’cheese they’d ever had. I knew it was good when it didn’t last. Everyone ate it and enjoyed!
So, let this be a lesson to you. Make that mac’n’cheese creamy for your family this Thanksgiving! I’ll share a great recipe with you to try. Have fun with it and try to make your own additions and substitutions!
Creamy Baked homestyle Mac’n’Cheese
1 lb. dried elbow pasta
½ cup (+ 2 Tbsp)unsalted butter
½ cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 oz cream cheese
4 cups grated medium sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Mozzerella cheese
½ cup grated Asiago cheese
salt, to taste (start with ½ Tbsp.)
¼ tsp. fresh black pepper
¼ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1/3 tsp. chili pepper flakes
½ cup bread crumbs
• Preheat oven to 350° F and grease a 3 qt baking dish (9x13"). Set aside.
• Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente. Drain and cut 2 Tbsp. butter and mix in.
• (While pasta is starting to cook) Grate cheeses (except cream cheese) and toss together, divide into two piles. Half for the sauce, and half to sprinkle in to dish.
• Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine into the start of a roux. Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking constantly. Slowly pour in about 2 cups or so of the milk/whipping cream, while whisking constantly, until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining milk/whipping cream, while whisking constantly, until smooth.
• Continue to heat over medium heat, whisking very often. Add cream cheese and continue whisking until smooth and thick.
• Remove from heat and stir in spices and slowly stir in half of tossed cheese to melt and combine until completely melted and smooth.
• Pour drained pasta into prepared baking dish and mix in other half of tossed shredded cheeses (leave a handful to sprinkle on the top at the end). Pour cheese sauce directly into dish, covering pasta. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and the last handful of cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheesy is bubbly and golden brown.
If you enjoyed this recipe, you may enjoy Joha's Perfect turkey recipe