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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    I think the next few months/years many people will be turning back toward the simplier traditional family meals — those Depression-era recipes that were intended to stretch the food-dollar and have been handed down. And back to the plain store-brand white bread, rather than that fancy stuff.

    The problem is the rising costs of some of these foods. I’ve noticed cheese has gone up in price, and a can of cream of mushroom soup is well over a dollar! And now the tuna companies have combined together to scam everyone by reducing the can size to five-ounces, down from six, while simultaneously raising the price. I noticed the same thing happening with potato chips — smaller package, higher price (unless you want to buy the “economy” 20-pound bag, where it is nothing but crumbs after the first few handfuls because of the crushing weight).

    Not to worry though. Just like Obama says we shouldn’t bother to look at the raging inferno that is consuming the stock markets. He assures us that he has confidence in his plan. After all, even though he has proposed a $3.5 trillion budget, he could have proposed a $10 trillion budget, and so he has “saved” $6.5 billion! So, when he says he is going to create or save jobs, and the economy will be booming next year, we should have nothing to fear.

  • ejhill1925

    My mother made a great quick M&C. After draining the hot mac, throw in 2 tbsps of margarine and pour in grated Parmesan cheese. A little pepper to taste. MMMMMMMMM!

  • Maggie45

    I use freshly grated white cheddar, a couple of tablespoons of very finely chopped onion, a can of tuna, a teensy bit of olive oil, and chopped black olives. and the elbow macaroni of course. And, lol, I can’t eat it because my body no longer likes dairy and wheat! Oh well.

  • Hubbard

    I always thought that Megan McArdle had a great mac’n’cheese recipe, even though it’s a bit much work for me to do regularly.

  • btsea

    Macaroni and Cheese was a staple of my Mom’s as well. Sometimes she would spice it up with pepper-jack cheese. I remember having a friend over to stay the night in 5th grade. We had macaroni and cheese. My friend raved about it that night and said it was the best macaroni and cheese he had had. Unfortunately, the next day he got sick. And on Monday at school in the classroom he told me that the thought maybe the macaroni and cheese had made him sick. Argghh! How embarrassing! And this was with other classmates nearby listening! But I can guarantee that if you follow the recipe, it won’t make you sick. Correlation does not imply causation.

    Another Friday favorite was tuna casserole, but one thing you can say about Catholics. When we are deprived of something, like meat during lent, we try to compensate by creating or ferreting out even more delicious recipes with fish (or without meat). By the time I was 20, my Mom had a large arsenal of recipes for Friday (althought pancakes and maple syrup still ranked near the top for me). Macaroni and Cheese was still a standby staple too, though and she makes it to this day!

    Anchoress, I’d be curious if you would elaborate on the exploding pressure cooker. My Mom made sauerkraut in the pressure cooker, and I remember her saying that a potential danger was that it could explode. Was the explosion very disastrous?

  • deacondean

    When you come to New Orleans, you MUST try the “baked macaroni” that is sold in just about cajun or seafood restaurant in town. Outstanding!!

  • deacondean

    Oops. Make that just about EVERY cajun…

  • clarinetgrl

    Ah yes, meatless meals. And pressure cookers. Anchoress, you’ve brought back a lot of memories for me with this article. I’m old enough that I remember the days when Catholics didn’t eat meat every Friday, not just during Lent. My Dad was not a mac and cheese fan, so we only had it on Saturdays for lunch, when he was working. Usually it was Kraft mac and cheese. How we loved that orange macaroni!

    Our favorite Friday meal was shrimp salad and potato pancakes. My mom would tear up a head of lettuce, throw in a can of tiny shrimp, and mix up the concoction with mayonnaise, salt and pepper. The potato pancakes were made from scratch; she used the blender to shred the potatoes, since there was no such thing as a food processor in those days. The pancakes were fried up in a pan til crispy, and topped with apple sauce. Yummy!

    My mom used the pressure cooker to cook up inexpensive cuts of meat (the only kind we ever had). My fondest memories of that cooker involved her special chop suey recipe: cut up pieces of round steak with water, soy sauce, bean sprouts, and celery, stewing away in the pot with the pressure gauge spinning around on the lid, making a merry noise. Then served over rice.

    My mom is still around at 85 and lives nearby; I think I’ll ask her to cook up a batch of memories soon!

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    I’m old enough that I remember the days when Catholics didn’t eat meat every Friday, not just during Lent.

    Actually, clarinetgrl, that still is the rule. News to you? Well, it was news to me when I learned that in my catechist training class. Clearly, this is another of those areas where the teaching has fallen by the wayside. (Although, to be charitable, there is so much clean-up that needs to be done from the post-Vatican II drift that I’m not going to bust their chops for not getting to everything immediately.)

    To be specific, current canon law provides:

    Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

    Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

    In short, the general rule is to abstain from meat on all Fridays, not only during Lent, but throughout the year. However, the bishops of a given country can decide to adopt a substitute rule for non-Lenten Fridays so that, (1) Catholics may continue to abstain from meat or (2) instead of abstaining from meat, Catholics may perform an alternative “act of penance” of their choosing.

    The problem is, of course, that not only are folks not abstaining on non-Lenten Fridays, but they are not performing the alternative act of penance either. So, the entire discipline has fallen by the wayside.

    Since around Christmastime, I have tried to stay meatless on all Fridays, which I’m sure will get tougher as the year progresses since I am a certified animal lover (i.e. carnivore) and the number of non-meat dishes that I know is limited. But here are some that I know –

    Macaroni and Cheese -
    Not at all fancy – instead of a cheese sauce, simply sprinkle grated cheddar on bottom of greased casserole dish, then a layer of plain cooked macaroni, some salt and pepper, a layer of cheddar, another layer of macaroni, etc., with a big layer of cheddar at the top, then pour about 3/4 cup milk over the top. Bake 350 for 45 minutes, until the top is nice and brown and crispy. Let rest a few minutes to firm up. I like to pour a little tomato juice on top after it is served on the plate.

    Tuna and Noodles -
    None of this fancy tuna casserole for us, just combine cooked noodles or other pasta with tuna and (Campbell’s) cream of mushroom soup, with a good spinkling of pepper, and you’re done.

    Creamed Tuna -
    Nothing more than tuna mixed into a basic white sauce (bechamel): Make a roux of 2TB melted butter and 2TB flour; after bubbling for a bit, add one cup of milk; while stirring, bring up to bubbling and thickening soft boil, then add a can of tuna, salt and pepper; bring back up to bubbling. Serve over toast (which I break up into pieces).

  • Piano Girl

    I have a funny mac & cheese story to share. When my older daughter was in kindergarten, another mother & I decided to “share kids” one afternoon a week to give us a break. Brenda would only eat macaroni and cheese, and knowing her mother, I was sure she cooked every thing from scratch. So, I dug out the recipe books, and slaved over a hot stove to make the perfect macaroni, which Brenda refused to eat (thank goodness for PB&J sandwiches!!!) When I told her mother, rather apologetically, that her child was showing up hungry after lunch at my house, she laughed and said, “Brenda only eats macaroni that comes out of the box that you can buy for 10 cents (you can tell how long ago this was!) at the grocery store!” Lesson learned, and I don’t think I’ve ever made homemade mac & cheese since then. I am tempted to try the recipe that Elizabeth provides in this e-mail. Maybe that will be a weekend project!

  • clarinetgrl

    Bender, now that you mention it, I dimly remember the shift: “The problem is, of course, that not only are folks not abstaining on non-Lenten Fridays, but they are not performing the alternative act of penance either. So, the entire discipline has fallen by the wayside.” I was not aware that Canon Law still required it explicitly.

    Abstaining from meat on Fridays seems to be one of a number of things that got lost in the shuffle of post-Vatican II. I remember when all females wore a hat or a scarf on their heads when they entered church, then suddenly, in one day it seems, everyone abandoned the practice. I don’ remember any pronouncements about it, just everyone stopped wearing head coverings. It’s still a mystery to me.

  • dick

    Funny thing with the corn and pancake batter. My mother made that too. She would fry the corn just until it was dry and almost browned and then pour the pancake batter over it. Worked well. Even better was when she made it with bacon. Fry the corn with small pieces of bacon and then pour the pancake batter over it and cook like regular pancakes. Not good for Lent but worked well for the rest of the year. Of course I am not Catholic so I don’t have meatless Fridays to deal with and am allergic to fish and seafood anyway. Would rather cramp the menu for me if I were.