Monday, February 15, 2010

Mom's Mac and Cheese - My Way

My mom used to work at a deli counter and a bakery before I was born. She has learned how to make things from smoked meat, stew, and lasagna to banana cake, croissants and bread - all from scratch. And somehow, she still remembers how to make everything.

We rarely ate out when we were younger, as my parents claimed that they could make everything we ordered at restaurants taste better. We also rarely had convenient food like Kraft Dinner at home. I actually thought that KD was something that was made up for tv entertainment, and so I never got the whole "Canadians only eat KD" joke.

When we were younger, this was how she made her mac and cheese:
- Cook and strain the pasta
- Add milk, chicken bake (you can get this at most grocery stores - it's located at the dry soup mix area) and ground black pepper
- Add cheese once the milk reduces a bit
- Add pasta to the sauce, stir and serve


As I grew up and developed more of a palate, I took a liking to old cheddar. My mom made her mac and cheese with old cheddar (whenever it was on sale) instead of mild cheddar once and I was in love. Since then, old cheddar was my go-to cheese when making this dish.

I don’t stray too far away from my mom’s way of making this favourite dish of mine... I do two things differently: make béchamel sauce and add more cheese. I guess that's an American mornay sauce. Sometimes mozzarella/marbled cheese was added for that gooey touch.

I start off with cooking my pasta in salt water. While the pasta is cooking, I roughly chop up my cheese (old cheddar and mozzarella or marbled). I make sure I have my butter, flour, milk and chicken bake ready. This is the radioactive-yellow-glowing chicken bake I've been talking about.

My Mac and Cheese1

My Mac and Cheese2
When the pasta is half way done, I have less than four mins to make a béchamel sauce before the pasta is al dente. I toss in a bit of butter and flour over some medium/high heat to make a thick paste. At this point, I taste my pasta and drain it (assuming the pasta is ready). The roux gets cooked out a bit until a bit golden.

My Mac and Cheese3
I then take the pot off the heat, add some milk and stir vigorously to get rid of the lumps. After there aren’t any large lumps, I return the pot to the heat and add a bit of more milk. I like my macaroni and cheese to have a bit more sauce, so I add more than enough milk to coat the pasta. The amount really depends on how much pasta is cooked. Once the milk is added, the roux becomes a béchamel sauce. The sauce will thicken pretty quickly if the heat is on too high, so take it off the heat if you need to.

My Mac and Cheese4
The béchamel sauce then gets a bit of chicken bake and most of the cheese. I allow everything to melt together before adding the drained pasta. The rest of the cheese and a few turns of black pepper completes the dish.

I added a bit too much milk, but oh well. I couldn't help but gobble this pot up. The velvety mornay sauce with specks of pepper covered al dente pasta was hard to resist. No wonder I’m not losing any weight while playing badminton this year.

When you make too much cheese sauce, take some out and set aside for some toast or casseroles.

My Mac and Cheese5

I love making this because it brings me back to my childhood, when we’d come home from school to a giant pot of mac and cheese. KD has nothing on this. Nothing.

I never really appreciated it when I was a kid, but my mom knows how to cook and bake really well. Thanks mom!


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