The inspiration for this post came to me a few days ago. My dad and I were discussing dinner plans sometime in the afternoon, and he suggested “Grandma’s Mac and Cheese.” When I got home from Christmas shopping in the early evening, I found Terry making another household specialty: apple pie. We ended up in the kitchen together, preparing the pie and mac and cheese. “What an all-American combination of foods here,” I thought to myself. “I should blog about this,” was my next thought, as a way to expand my food posts from purely recipes to short narratives about culture and food. (As a bonus, I’ll include the mac and cheese recipe at the end of this post.)
So what can I say about these two dishes? First and foremost, they are delicious.
Many cultures and countries have their own version of apple pie: some use a double crust, some use lattice, some use crumble topping, some are crustless, some are more cake-like (but then that would be apple cake and not apple pie). Somewhere along the historical timeline, Americans adopted apple pie and it has become a national dish of sorts. Maybe it’s just because I’m from the northeast and so many apples grow here in the autumn that we must come up with creative ways to use them. In any case, apple pie is great year-round and is popular both at 4th of July (Independence Day) celebrations and Thanksgivings around the USA. My dad makes a killer crust and uses plenty of cinnamon and a light crumble topping in his apple pie.
Now on to macaroni and cheese. The idea is really quite simple: cooked elbow macaroni mixed with a white/cheese sauce and baked. Though Italy is obviously the king of pasta, mac and cheese has come to be primarily associated with American — especially Southern — cuisine. Many Americans grow up eating boxed mac and cheese (just add butter, milk, and that weirdly-bright orange “cheese” powder) on nights when the parents go out and a babysitter comes. I ate my fair share of boxed mac and cheese as a kid, but my brother and I were also lucky to grow up with parents who love to cook and have a great homemade macaroni and cheese recipe that we call “Grandma’s Mac and Cheese” (“Grandma’s” because it’s the recipe my maternal grandmother always made when my mom was growing up). For some reason we always eat frozen peas (reheated, of course) alongside — or mixed into — our mac and cheese. It is also delicious with leftover ham chunks mixed in. Read on for the recipe, and happy American cooking!
Grandma’s Mac and Cheese
- 8oz = 1.75 cups elbow macaroni
- 1/4 cup = 1/2 stick of butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp (or to taste) pepper
- 2 cups milk
- 8oz = 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
- Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a casserole and distribute half the parmesan around the bottom and edges. Cook the macaroni as directed and drain it.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan or double boiler. Remove it from the heat and stir in the flour, salt and pepper until smooth.
- Gradually stir in milk. Return to the heat and bring to boiling, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer mixture 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and stir in 1.5 cups cheddar cheese and the cooked macaroni.
- Pour entire mixture into the casserole and sprinkle the remaining cheddar and parmesan over the top. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is golden-brown.