By DENENE MILLNER
It seemed almost every weekend when I was little, my mom was taking us somewhere to visit with her best friends/church buddies/play sisters. While the kids splashed around in the pool or conjured up fantastic adventures in the basement, Mommy and her girlfriends played Pokeno for pennies and talked about church. Bible-thumpers they were, indeed.
A huge part of those get-togethers, of course, was the eating. My Auntie Tina always brought this butter pound cake that was so juicy and spongy it practically melted between your fingertips. My Auntie Sarah always had fried chicken and mustard greens on the stove, hot and sweet. Auntie Ragland's specialty was black-eyed peas and, if we happened to be at her house on New Year's, chitlins (she was one of the rare women in my mom's life trusted enough to clean them properly). And my mom? A party wasn't a party unless Bettye brought her famous macaroni and cheese, juicy and moist on the inside, a skooch crispy on top. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could touch my mother's famed mac & cheese recipe. I mean, a few tried and all--would show up to Sunday dinners at St. John's Baptist Church with their pitiful offerings. Alas, they were feeble, sorry attempts that could never compare to the delicacy my mother always seemed to whip up faster than you could say, "Let's eat!"
I grew up watching my mother make her mac and cheese--started pitching in when I was nimble enough to grate the huge blocks of sharp cheddar cheese on her beat up grater. A few Thanksgivings before she passed away, I convinced her to give me lessons on some of her most prized recipes; she taught me how to make her homemade stuffing, her sweet potato pie, her southern lemon pound cake, the potato salad, and, the mother of all her recipes, THE mac & cheese. It took me quite some time and a lot of practice to get it to taste like hers, but now my mac & cheese so closely resembles my mom's that my dad is finally convinced I know what I'm doing. This is huge.
During my years of making the mac & cheese, I've added my own twist to it; I don't grate anymore, now that Kroger and Publix have those handy bags of cheese already shredded. And while my mom used only three cheeses--sharp, mild, and American--I use up to 11 in my recipe, including asiago, monterey jack, mozzarella, parmesan, romano, and gouda, among others.
This macaroni and cheese is simply sumptuous—the secret is in the roux. Remember to take your time with the egg, butter, milk and flour mixture; get that right, and this will be the juiciest, cheesiest, yummiest macaroni and cheese you’ve ever tasted! Don’t forget to credit Bettye Millner, my beautiful mom.
For a 9 by 11-inch pan you'll need:
1 ½ small boxes of Mueller's macaroni elbows
2 cups of milk
2 bags of sharp cheddar cheese
2 bags of mild cheddar cheese
4 slices American white and yellow cheese
2 bags of assorted cheeses (like italian six cheese,
monterrey jack cheese, or mexican cheese)
1 stick of butter
about 3 tablespoons of flour
salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil your macaroni until tender (put a little oil in the water so the elbows don't stick.
2. Drain the macaroni, then put a layer of macaroni on the bottom of your pan. Then layer the cheese, then macaroni, then cheese. End with cheese.
3. Melt your butter in a pan on medium heat. While the butter is melting, mix your eggs in a large bowl, breaking the yolks. Add milk to the eggs, and put in a little salt and pepper to season; stir until it's all mixed together.
4. After butter is melted, add the flour to the butter and mix so that the flour dissolves into the butter. It'll be liquidy.
5. Pour in milk and egg mixture into the butter and flour mixture in the pan; whisk it until all of it is mixed together and the liquid gets a little thick. DO NOT LET IT GET SUPER THICK OR ELSE IT WON'T DRIP BETWEEN THE LAYERS.
6. Pour the egg/butter/milk mixture into the macaroni and cheese layers; the liquid should reach the top, but do not let it flood the top of the pan.
7. Cover pan with aluminum foil, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes to an hour. You'll know it's close to finished when it's bubbling. When it starts to bubble, take the aluminum foil off so that it can brown.
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