As I’ve mentioned before, macaroni and cheese is my absolute favorite food (next to rice). I could eat it all day, every day. It’s the first thing I look for on restaurant menus, and I find absolutely random excuses to make large quantities of it, usually under the ruse of feeding others.
(By the way, did you know Merriam-Webster defines ruse as a wily subterfuge’? Isn’t that the most fabulous thing you’ve ever heard?)
(Ok, I apologize for that foray into the geek kingdom. Actually, I don’t apologize. I’m a nerd who enjoys clever word combinations. Deal with it.)
ANYWAY, though I love macaroni and cheese, I can’t pretend as though it’s healthy. A one cup serving of regular macaroni and cheese is 10 wwpoints+. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if I could stop myself at one cup- but, really, when faced with a giant dish of hot, cheesy goodness, how can ANYONE stop at one serving?
Over the years I’ve developed a number of recipes which fulfill my desire for macaroni and cheese- my favorites including cauliflower and cheese, and a number of Weight Watchers friendly recipes. However, I’ve never done a direct comparison of my new concoctions against the macaroni and cheese which sits on the pedestal of my childhood.
Therefore, in honor of Ayyam-i-ha (which ended yesterday), I decided it was time for me to do a formal taste test. Therefore, I’m pitting my mother’s world-famous recipe (well, it’s not world famous yet but TRUST ME: it will be) against my own spin on a vegan mac and cheez, and a Weight Watchers friendly recipe.
Let’s start with my mama’s recipe, shall we?
Like most traditional Southern families, my mother learned to cook at the knee of her grandmothers. So really, I have my grandmothers to thank for this delicious recipe. Also, my family has a bad habit of not writing down its recipes- we’re verbal people, you know? Therefore, some of the measurements are my estimations of what has commonly been known as “just toss in a pinch” and (my personal favorite) “just keep stirring until it looks right”. However, these measurements will produce a very rich and cheesy mac and cheese which might put you in a food coma- it might also CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Tangela Stanley’s Life Changing Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Yield: 4 Servings
8 oz small curved pasta
I’m being as vague as possible on purpose- while macaroni is the obvious choice, there are plenty of other curvy pastas which will work just as well, if not better. I’m especially partial to gemelli and pipe rigate.
8 oz Sharp or Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Not Medium: SHARP
2 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Flour
2 cups Milk
1 large egg
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and spray a casserole dish with non-stick spray.
2. In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
3. In a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it’s free of lumps. Lower the heat, and stir in the milk. Simmer for five minutes until slightly thickened.
Ok, this is one of the steps that gets lost in translation. Making a ‘roux’ is necessary for most creamy sauces and can be difficult to manage all the . I’ve watched my mom do it for years- here’s her method:
First melt the butter. Second: Quickly whisk in the flour. Third: Quickly whisk in the milk, removing all flour lumps.
4. Temper In The Egg.
Here comes the “secret” to perfect Stanley Family macaroni and cheese. Adding an egg to the cheese sauce binds the noodles and cheese beautifully. However, if you just dump a raw egg into hot cream, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs and cheese. I don’t think that’s what you want. Before adding the egg to the sauce, you must first bring it up the same temperature of the sauce. Here’s how to properly temper an egg:
First, crack the egg in a small bowl. Second, while whisking the egg rapidly, slowly add spoonfuls of the hot cream to the egg. Once the egg is up to temperature, slowly whisk it in to the pot of sauce.
5. Once the sauce has thickened and passed the ‘spoon test’, remove from heat. Stir in the cheese, adding salt and pepper to taste.
The spoon test is something I learned from Alton Brown, master of all things culinary:
Dip the back of a spoon in the thickened cream. If you can run your finger across the coated spoon and create a trail through which liquid can’t pass, the sauce passes the spoon test.
On the subject of cheese, I ended up buying a block of cheese and shredding it by hand. Pre-shredded cheese is perfectly fine.
Ok, this is really just an excuse to sing the praises of my cheese grater. I got it at ikea: it’s basically a set of two plastic bowls with two different attachments- one for roughly grating cheese (seen above- used primarily for grating soft cheeses) and one for finely grating cheese (used primarily for hard cheeses- parmesan, romano, etc). They also come with matching lids so you can store cheese that’s not used. The set of two graters only cost $4.99- this is an example of an ikea purchase I LOVE- unlike my old food scale, which is an unfortunate example of the darker side of ikea.
6. Place drained pasta in casserole dish. Pour cheese mixture over pasta and stir gently to distribute cheese evenly.
7. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.
Decadent Cheesy Goodness
A Note on Breadcrumb Toppings: Yeah, I don’t do that. Ever. At all. It’s a JessNotJazz policy. I will not judge those who choose otherwise, but you will never catch me dousing perfectly good macaroni with a dust ruffle of breadcrumbs.
Coming Soon In The Macaroni and Cheese Bowl: Adventures in ‘Vegan-izing’”-Macaroni and Cheese edition.