I grew up with a mother who couldn't cook. Burnt meatloaf, dry chicken and blackened hot dogs were all staples in her kitchen. One day, she was flipping through a magazine and found a recipe she thought she could handle: "homemade" macaroni and cheese made with Velveeta and stewed tomatoes. I was skeptical, but the dish ended up being the first thing ever to come out of Mom's kitchen that was a joy, rather than a chore, to eat.
The Velveeta melted evenly, giving every bite a rich, gooey flavor, and the canned tomatoes gave the dish a tang that balanced out the cheese perfectly. The spices from the stewed tomatoes gave the dish a surprising kick. The temperature of it always challenged my mouth -- I could never let it cool down -- but sinking my teeth into the gooey hot noodles while simultaneously puffing out steamy air was a test of fortitude I always aced. My will was lost, however, when it came to showing any level of restraint against overeating. Still, on that day of the week when Mom made macaroni and cheese, I fell asleep with a full belly and happy heart.
There are few dishes more beloved than macaroni and cheese, and with good reason. It's the ultimate comfort food, be it from a box or the oven, evoking childhood memories and contentment. It's easy and inexpensive to make, and the possibilities are endless – aside from the variety of cheeses you can use, you can throw in anything from broccoli to hot dogs. Though widely considered to be an American dish, it's made in some form or another all over the world. Italy has béchamel sauce, a creamy, cheesy white sauce. The West Indians have macaroni pie, that's bound with egg instead of flour, giving it a sturdier quality. Even within the United States, there are regional differences in how the dish is prepared. In the South, for example, the dish tends to have more sauce, making it richer and gooier then preparations elsewhere. With hundred of cookbooks devoted solely to the dish, macaroni and cheese is a dish that's truly woven into the fabric of our lives.
I entertain a lot, and make a wide variety of dishes resembling grown-up macaroni and cheese. I've even given Mom's recipe a dinner-party-friendly makeover -- real cheddar cheese and fresh, not canned, tomatoes. But when I'm just cooking for me, I whip out Mom's recipe and am immediately transported back into her kitchen, getting seconds of my favorite dinner staple.
Did you know?
The Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner was introduced in 1937 with the slogan, "Make a meal for 4 in 9 minutes."
Mom's Mac 'n' Cheese:
1 lb. elbow macaroni
1 lb. package of Velveeta, cut into small chunks
Stick of butter
1 28-oz. can stewed tomatoes, Italian style, strained and chopped
1/4 cup milk
Pinch of dried basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Butter casserole dish. Drain macaroni and add to dish. Add rest of butter to macaroni and stir until melted. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Bake for 20 minutes, or until melted, stirring halfway through cooking.
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