Macaroni and Cheese-a-palooza

Buster is visiting from college for a few days and when I asked if there was anything special he wanted me to cook he cocked the eyebrow and said, “it’s Lent. Friday is coming. What else but Macaroni and Cheese?

In our family, mac and cheese is a pretty simple affair, but people go mad for it; a few weeks ago the kids had a party here and the buffet menu had to include mac & cheese, which was the first tray to empty.

What’s lovely about this is it is creamy, and you can add anything you like to it – broccoli, peas, cauliflower, tomatoes, bits of leftover chicken, sliced hotdogs (for little kids) – whatever.

Now, understand, this is my mother’s recipe, and her mother’s before her. And neither Mom nor Granny – bless their hearts – were dab hands at cooking. I remember once hearing a scream and running to the kitchen to find the walls, the appliances, the ceiling all spattered and running red.

One of them had figured she could heat up a can of beets in boiling water and then open it up and serve it. As soon as the can opener hit the hot can, well…you get the picture. For a few hours, until every bit of beet juice was found and scrubbed, my house looked like the scene of a mass murder.

We grew up with a lot of things being doused with Cream of Mushroom soup – everything from tuna to broccoli to onions – and I have memories of a pressure cooker exploding once. There was also an unfortunate week where, for reasons best left unexplained, our daily meals consisted of Eggs and Drakes Cakes, but I never like to go back to those days.

One big Lenten dish of hers was a concoction that involved Aunt Jemima pancake batter and cans of Green Giant Niblet Corn. I have on occasion tried to reproduce that taste, and have never achieved it.

Look, Mother was Irish. Everything got boiled. Almost everything got creamed. Leftovers got thrown into anything that was cooking. Hence, “Baked Macaroni” was her featured dish.

So, in honor of Lent and Alice-the-downshouter:

Baked Macaroni
1 lb medium shell pasta or elbow macaroni
8 oz velveeta cheese
a handful of grated parmesan cheese
previously mentioned leftovers and scraps to taste.

While the pasta is boiling, you cube the velveeta; if you’re adding frozen vegetables, put them into the pot with the pasta. When the macaroni is not quite al dente, remove from heat. Drain the pasta and throw it all into a 9 x 13 casserole. Add the cooked chicken, pork, sliced hotdogs, or whatever. Throw in a handful of parmesan cheese, and add pepper to taste. Stir. Add milk until it reaches just under the halfway point. Cover and bake for 15 minutes or so, at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted. Stir and bake uncovered until bubbly.

Yes, I know, it sounds disgusting. It tastes better than that.

But just in case you are less-than-charmed with my mother’s Irish recipe, here is a whole collection of Macaroni & Cheese recipes, some of which sound quite nice and even elegant.

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