I am going to brag a little bit.
I make kick-ass Mac and Cheese.
I like nothing better than to sit back with a big bowl of hot, steamy macaroni and cheese and power watching “Red Dwarf”. And, at the end of a hard day, there really is nothing more comforting and relaxing.
My coworkers make a point of asking me if I am bringing it to potlucks and I love doing so.
But, it has been a very hard journey to get to this spot.
Probably more so than it should have been.
Like most people, I grew up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I actually remember this being the first thing I ever learned to make. I was probably six or seven at the time. As some of you may know, my mother was a godawful cook and we all learned to cook early in self-defense.
There is absolutely nothing simpler than boiling those noodles. Then straining them. And, of course, stirring in that package of liquid pretending to be cheese. Ah, perfection! I never even knew there could be another type of macaroni and cheese.
That is until THE GREAT REVEAL.
My freshman year of college I did not go home for Thanksgiving and stayed on campus. My friend, Ron, asked me to go home with him to Racine.
The buffet almost groaned as we walked along filling our plates. Turkey, mashed potatoes and even that bane of human existence, cranberry jelly.
Then, it appeared like the sun. A huge, glowing pan of shells and cheese. It was huge and covered with spiced bread crumbs. But was it mac n cheese?
Not wanting to insult the hostess, I took a small helping and went to hide in a corner while I tried it out. Looking around to be sure no one was watching, i put a forkful in my mouth and started to chew and —
Remember that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy opens her eyes and everything is in color? That’s how it was. It was as if someone had given Paula Deen LSD infused butter and she had worked her magic.
Time slowed and I savored every bite. Nipping back to the buffet, I got more and more and more. Finally, Ron nudged me and said “You might want to let someone else have some.”
But I had my task in life. I was going to make the — drum roll, please, — PERFECT mac n cheese.
Question One: To Velveeta or not to Velveeta?
Is Velveeta cheese or not? I know I had grown up on it but is it really cheese? It sliced like bread. Could be shaped like Playdough. And, had the tensile strength of Super Glue.
But, was it actually cheese?
I tried asking my friends but all I ever got were grunts and a few people asking me what I was smoking. Weird obsession I know. So, I checked out James Beard from the local library and noted that “American Cheese” was not even listed in the glossary. That just about settled that.
Question Two: So What Do You Use?
I took about five pounds of sharp cheddar and put them in a pot to melt and melt and melt… No one ever told me I had to add liquid. It just refused to melt. Finally, I nodded off.
AND, WOKE UP TO THE SOUND OF THE SMOKE ALARM!! Clouds of black smoke rose up out of my favorite pot. It was so bad that I had to toss the pan.
Undaunted, I tried again and again and again. Each time, I noticed that mine was the last chosen. Finally, I asked Ron what was wrong.
“The taste is okay but the noodles are so mushy. It’s like eating paste.”
My friends are nothing if not honest.
Finally, I came up with what I thought was the perfect pan of mac and cheese. It smelled great. The noodles were firm. The aroma was better than sex – sorta…
I made an enormous pan so I could take it to a tailgate party for homecoming. I carefully placed it on the backseat and buckled in. Starting the car, I pulled carefully out into the road to drive to the site across town. It was a beautiful day –
IN A SCREECH OF HORNS, another car pulled right in front of me and forced me to slam the brakes HARD!
That pan of mac n cheese – the fruit of my hard worn labor – took flight from the back seat of the car like an angel. And, like an angel, it touched everything in its path with the light of its goodness.
And melted cheese.
The interior of that car looked like a package of Velveeta exploded. Mac n cheese dripped from the ceiling light, the seats, the windshield, you name it. And me!
I looked like the Michelin Tire Man’s younger brother – Cheez Whiz. I had it in my hair, down my shirt, dripping off my glasses and even in my shoes.
And, it was hot!
But, I tasted GREAT!!!
Now Let’s Do It Right:
2 lbs. sharp cheddar
2 lbs. mozzarella cheese
1/2 lb. parmesan cheese
2 lbs. american cheese
3 oz. minced garlic
1 1/2 qt. whipping cream
1/2 cup olive oil
4 lbs. elbow macaroni
You may use either a large crock pot or a large disposable aluminum pan. If using the crock pot, put it on it lowest setting. If the oven, set it on 250 F.
Finely grate the Parmesan cheese. Place 1/2 qt whipping cream in a small sauce pan and add the Parmesan cheese. Add 1 ounce grated garlic. Heat over a low heat until smooth and put aside.
Roughly grate the Cheddar, Mozzarella and American cheeses and put in the large baking pan. Add 1 qt whipping cream and olive oil. Allow it to melt and stir occasionally.
Once fully melted, grind pepper and salt and add to taste. Fresh ground is so much better than store bought ground. Add the remaining minced garlic and Parmesan sauce.
Here’s the secret: allow it to seethe on a very low heat overnight. Also, if you want to add texture, turn up the heat for the last hour and allow to carmelize softly along the edges of the pan. Many people mistake the carmelization for chicken.
Boil the noodles just before serving and mix in. Mix in spiced chicken if you wish.
Serves side portions for 30. Main dish portions for 10.
COPYRIGHT 2016 Micheal J. Hobbs