Mac & Cheese - The Road to Enlightenment
Themes - Gracious and Good, Just Good Food, Level Up
Food/Tech Tie In – Basic Cooking Techniques, Cassarole Dish Prep
Homage - ‘erbody that has ever made and shared their Mac & Cheese with me
In life there are some truths and while I resist someof them, some hard and fast rules. One of which is...”you cant eat ‘erbody’s Mac & Cheese. Sad but alas...true. This applies to Mac & Cheese offerings from family. It is not unusual at family gatherings or celebration meals to hear the question, ”Who made the Mac & Cheese?”...eyes darting everywhere depending on the answer.
Being transparent...there were times, ok years, when I was "the" family member asked to NOT make the Mac & Cheese or any Soul Food for that matter. Quiche, Tarts and anything Italian, were my sweet spot at that time, so my heart goes out to those who are still on the side dish struggle bus ‘cause...its real. But know, Mac & Cheese enlightenment can be achieved. Watch, listen, help and practice.
Given my early status on this dish, every opportunity that came my way to be in the presence of a cook known to put their foot in it, I was up in the kitchen so that regardless of what my dish assignment was, I could chit chat and all that the Mac maker. Very often, other than the number of eggs or the amount of milk in its various forms, much of the other ingredients were not measured but executed from Mac maker muscle memory. Not good if your trying to figure out how to get off the aforementioned bus.
One Thanksgiving I was in the kitchen with was my BFF’s sister and watched her layer the elbow macaroni, some chopped onions (Really?, but that flavor profile is what’s up), evaporated milk and grated cheese. I’m sure there was some seasoning in there, but I missed it as I was focused on my chop and dice or was it peel and mash? Either way, her Mac & Cheese was good and I believe it involved the “V”.
A word about the “V”. No shade but...its not cheese, it’s a processed cheese product. We all (my orb) grew up with it in the house, we all ate it and liked it. It does what it does, it just doesn’t do it in my version of mac & cheese that Im sharing with y’all, but feel free to use it if you must. Nuff said ?!?
Another Thanksgiving, I was invited to the BFF of a neighbor in my building in Brooklyn. The first year Im sure I brought wine or dessert, and enjoyed one of the best gatherings with the host's family and friends. The family was originally from Cape Verde, hence there were fish dishes, rice dishes and such to go along with the turkey, but the BEST dish was the host's (Jackie's) Mac & Cheese. I wont even go into the tasting notes as I'll run out of adjectives, but lets just say, that’s when the title “Jack The Mack” as one of honor, came into being.
I was back the next Thanksgiving, but this time...I was in the kitchen. Apron on, shoes off, with Jackie and her sisters, laughing and cutting up as sisters do. I had with the honor of running sous chef on her mac & cheese as she worked on the stewed Kingfish, and another dish similar to FuFu. Cooking serendipity at its best!
“Butter the dish good, layer the penne noodles, add in the milk, layer on the seasonings till you can see them, add enough sharp cheddar (yellow and white) to cover it all, repeat, and bake uncovered”...were Jackies instructions she gave as she watched me out of the corner of her eye (no side eye, just...lets make sure we get it right eye). One year her sister covered the dish as she thought it was getting too brown...BIG mistake. I remember Jackie looking at it and saying “That doesn’t look like my Mac & Cheese”. She was right, it didn’t and yup I kept coming back for celebration meals...for a few years....including those in the summer time.
So penne pasta, the layering technique and that one extra seasoning ingredient is the basis of what I call “Jack The Mack’s Mac and Cheese”, but that is not all. From a completely different source, a magazine, I discovered a 7 cheese version that made my untrained Culinary heart sing. At its core is Sharp Cheddar, but the addition of other cheeses responsible for adding tang, creaminess, and stretchy-ness to the dish, is what took it to the next level.
Combining ingredients from those mentioned above, along with techniques garnered over the years, including evolving the layering step, got me off the bus and onto the list of folks who are now asked to make the Mac & Cheese, as well as the one whos recipe the family has asked for time and again. The recipe I share with you has measured amounts of most ingredients, with just a handful (3) being “As Needed” or "To Taste”.
Coming from HereInMyKitchen to yours, if you get with my Jack The Mack’s Mac & Cheese recipe, you can get off or completely bypass the side dish struggle bus, garnering only sighs of relief and smiles, when anyone asks prior to spooning a serving onto their plate ...”who made the mac & cheese?”
Coming from HereInMyKicthen to yours, if you start with my Jack The Mac’s Mac & Cheese recipe, you can get off or completely bypass the side dish struggle bus, garnering only sighs of relief and smiles, when anyone asks prior to spooning a serving onto their plate ...”who made the mac & cheese?”