It’s safe to say that when people think of classic American food, ‘Mac’n’Cheese’ definitely comes to mind.
Everyone around the world knows the blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which tastes nothing like REAL macaroni and cheese, but will forever hold a place in people’s hearts in the nostalgia department for their fav childhood meals.
Homemade ‘Mac n cheese’ is actually something that can divide a room when brought up for discussion. There’s the box kind, which nobody cares to argue over, because what even is that? Then there are the ‘milk sauce’ people and there are the ‘baked mac’ people.
The American fight for authentic Mac’n’Cheese
Italians aren’t the only ones fighting for the authenticity of their traditional dishes! Here in the US, some people say the ‘proper’ recipe is the one with a bechamel sauce so that the entire dish stays milky and creamy. Some say it should be the cheese that melts and becomes gooey, the milk sauce isn’t necessary. There are definitely two distinct styles, but both seem to stem from one main recipe which is always credited to Thomas Jefferson.
After traveling through both France and Italy, the legend is that Thomas Jefferson brought this dish back to America. However, it was his enslaved chef, James Hemings, who cooked the dish and adapted it, creating and serving what would become one of the most beloved dishes of all time.
The Mac’n’cheese I grew up eating falls in the ‘baked mac’ category. It’s the one I requested and begged to be made and was something prepared for special occasions. It graced the table at birthdays, holidays, and as a side dish at every summer barbecue.
My Mac’n’Cheese has got Dad’s signature
This beloved Mac’n’Cheese is the Southern-style baked macaroni that my dad makes.
I don’t know exactly when the recipe arrived, but one day my dad came home excitedly talking about a recipe that his friend Vicki Broderick (thanks Vicki, you became my hero) gave him. He made it that weekend and ever since, that’s been one of our family’s most cherished recipes. It is also the one food that I request when I come ‘home’ to visit my family. It’s my love of carbs to the max … cheese, pasta, crunchy crackers, butter. It’s melty. It’s creamy.
This year, having been separated from my family for 2 years due to the pandemic, when I finally arrived in the States, Mac’n’cheese was one of the first things I wanted.
It’s the taste of home. It’s also a symbol of my dad’s cooking.
When people ask me where this interest in food comes from, they are often surprised to hear that it’s from my Dad.
My mom is a GREAT cook, she was the one who cooked meals during weeknights when I was growing up. She prepped casseroles, roasts, and vegetables in between various school activities that my brother and I had going on.
Mom is the one who taught me how to boil water; who taught me how to cook.
It’s her mother, Big Mama, that made me fall in love with bread.
However, where my mom economized meal planning with time and ease, organizing meals for a busy family, my dad would plan elaborate weekend feasts. My childhood memories are filled with dad using the grill every weekend and of him researching every detail of what he cooked, of him watching videos of how to make it, and also of him entertaining. He loves to have people over to feed.
Mac’n’Cheese calls for more food memories
One of the food memories stuck in my mind that will stay there forever is of my dad and collard greens. Big Mama was visiting for the summer and I remember waking up early and finding her and my father in the kitchen, both in aprons, washing and carefully rolling and chopping a mountain of collard greens to fill a pot the size of a cauldron.
My dad was showing her how to chop them so as not to bruise the leaves. He had researched the method for those greens for a week, going back and forth to various butchers to buy the proper fat to cook them in.
This is my dad in the kitchen. This is also me on occasion.
That’s why for me, Mac’n’cheese isn’t just a side dish. It’s a memory. It’s a feeling. It’s my entire childhood in the summertime. It’s a family gathering. It’s comforting… like an actual hug from a meal. It’s a literal bite of ‘home’. I’m so thankful to be ‘home’ with my family for these short weeks in the summer and so glad I can relive these memories via forkfuls of my favorite things.
Would you like to try making one of your own? Trust us when we say that THIS is the best macaroni and cheese you will ever eat!
OUR BAKED MAC’N’CHEESE RECIPE*
*originally from Vicki Broderick via Joe Gale
DISCLAIMER: This isn’t a ‘good for your waistline’ recipe but most foods worthy of love and praise never are!
- 8 oz. (1 small box, about 230 g ) elbow macaroni noodles, cooked to ‘al dente’
- 4 cups (332 g) grated sharp/strong cheddar cheese **If using a different cheese because cheddar isn’t available, it needs to be a strong tasting cheese that also melts easily.
- 1 cup (240 g) sour cream or cream fraiche
- 1 cup (240 g) mayonnaise **This is traditional in southern cooking but more sour cream and some Greek yogurt can be substituted to lighten it.
- 2 Tbsp. Chopped white onions
- 1 cup (120 g) crushed crackers (Ritz brand suggested or another buttery, salty cracker like ‘Gran Pavesi’, or could substitute with bread crumbs).
- Paprika/crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Butter a baking dish that is big enough to hold all the macaroni comfortably. Mix all the ingredients except the topping together. If the mixture doesn’t seem creamy enough, add a few more spoons for each of the sour cream/mayo until it looks creamy. Spread this into the buttered dish. Sprinkle the macaroni with some crushed paprika or red pepper flakes on top. Last, sprinkle the crushed crackers on the top of the macaroni.
Bake for 30 minutes until it looks melty and gooey.