Monday, May 13, 2013

My Grandmother's Baked Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

Yesterday was Mother's Day and, although I think of my mother frequently, I spent a lot of time yesterday reminiscing about my her.  One of the things I remembered was the last time I spent my birthday with my her.  
At my request she was going to make her baked macaroni and cheese for me.  Her recipe was different from any other I've ever eaten; it actually was passed down to her from my grandmother.  It was one of my favorite meals and I hadn't had it in ages.  My mother had been suffering from Fibromyalgia for many years so when I realized that it would have been too much work for her we went out to dinner instead.
I don't know why I never asked her for the recipe.  I guess it was because I was single at the time and working about 14 hours a day.  Cooking wasn't a priority.  My sister and I found some of her recipes when we cleaned her house out, but not that one.
What was it about my mother's recipe that made it different?  I'm sure the fact that it was childhood comfort food has a lot to do with how much I like it, but there's more.  The macaroni got really crispy on the top.  The cheese part wasn't creamy, but actually had some texture to it.  It definitely wasn't made with a roux.  It had a distinct cheddar flavor, but not too sharp.
A few years ago my husband had knee surgery and spent his recovery watching the Food Network.  I gained 20 pounds that summer trying out all the recipes that he liked.  When he saw Ina Garten make macaroni and cheese he got a craving.  I looked up her recipe online and, although my husband loved it, it wasn't anything like my mother's.  For one thing, Ina's was a lot of work.  It was too creamy.  And the top doesn't crisp up because it's not meant to.
My sister didn't have my mother's recipe either.   She got in touch with my aunt who sent her a recipe that appeared to be the one.  I made it and it was close, but not quite right.   I think it was the addition of the bread crumbs, which kept the top of the macaroni from getting crispy.  My mother never used them.

So, in honor of my mother and grandmother on Mother's Day, I decided to share their recipe.  The only thing I would change would be to leave out the bread crumbs.  If you didn't grow up with the crispy top layer of macaroni, you might not like it and might want to use the bread crumbs.

     ·         1 lb.    Elbow Macaroni
     ·         12 oz. Sharp Cheddar Cheese
     ·         4 oz.   Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
     ·         1 qt.   Whole Milk
     ·         Butter 
     ·         Plain Bread Crumbs (optional)
 1.     Coat a 3-quart rectangular Pyrex dish with butter, bottom and sides.
 2.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
 3.     Cook the macaroni for half of the time on the package instructions.

  •   Drain, then stir in a little butter to keep from sticking together.
  •   Pour macaroni into Pyrex dish.
 4.     In a separate bowl, grate cheese, add milk, and stir well.

  •   Pour over the macaroni and stir.
 5.     Place small chunks of butter on top of macaroni.
 6.     Sprinkle bread crumbs on top  (not how my mother cooked it)
 7.     Bake for 30-60 minutes, or until the crust is browned.

I hope you like this as much as I do!

NOTES on June 10:  
I temporarily took this off my blog about a week after Mother's Day because I made it and I wasn't happy with it.  It seemed as though the cheese disappeared!!  I think that that there were two big problems with what I did. 

The first problem was following the instructions as written and only cooking the macaroni half-way.  The second problem was that I put the rest of the ingredients over the macaroni in advance.  Then I covered the dish and put it into the fridge for a couple of hours.  

I think that the macaroni absorbed all of the milk into it and prevented the cheese from blending with the milk.  

I researched a bunch of other recipes.  Some of them tell you to cook the macaroni halfway, but many of them tell you to cook the macaroni completely.  It makes me think that it doesn't matter.

So, next time I make this recipe, I'll fully cook the macaroni.  And I'll put the dish in the oven immediately after putting the rest of the ingredients over the macaroni.

One more thing.  I don't remember my mother grating the cheese.  I think she just crumbled it.  I'm all for less work, so I'm crumbling next time.  Also, I didn't think that the cheese flavor was all that strong, so I might use 16 oz of Extra Sharp Cheddar next time.
If you prefer a creamy version, check out Ina Garten's recipe.  My husband loved it: