Cooking with Barbara: Mmmmmac ‘n’ Cheese

By Barbara Crady Whitley

Cooking with Barbara: Mmmmmac ‘n’ Cheese

On the cook top across the kitchen, the slightly salted water has come to a rapid boil. I add a bit of olive oil and pour in the entire 16 ounce box of old-fashioned, plain-Jane elbow macaroni. I bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions just slightly less than al-dente stage. I want it to be firm because it will continue cooking somewhat when I add the other ingredients for the most comfortable of the comfort foods – macaroni and cheese. Who doesn’t love it? After all, this dish does have it all; creaminess as well as “toothsomeness,” texture, saltiness, the bite of the cheese and aroma! Ahh!

Adam has a hand grater out on the counter and a huge wedge of “hoop” cheese. (“Hoop” cheese is a traditional, non-aged, farmers’ cheese and does not keep well, so it should be used fairly quickly after purchase. Not many supermarkets carry it because of its short life, but look for it. It is well worth the effort of finding it.) While I pour off the hot water and place the pasta into a bowl, he grates the cheese, pausing now and again to pop some of the lustrous golden strands into his mouth. We are companionable while the two of us prepare this, his favorite food.

Next I beat two eggs, lightly salted, until frothy, add a bit of cardamom – not too much – we don’t want any sweetness from this spice, just an indefinable flavor. Then we add about a cup of half and half and 2/3 cup of evaporated milk. Since the pasta has now cooled somewhat, we can add the liquid to the bowl. We can also adjust the liquid at this time, adding more evaporated milk if necessary. We’re careful not to combine the ingredients too soon, since we don’t want the hot pasta to cook the eggs before baking. Adam stirs to meld and then adds the cheese! We think this is the most crucial step. If the milk and macaroni mixture is too warm, the cheese begins to melt too soon, and we want it to blend in the oven, not in the bowl.

Now for the finale! After slightly stirring the ingredients only to blend, pour into a generously buttered (yes, butter!) baking dish. And then Adam will place some reserved, thin squares of hoop cheese on top. He likes to have a pattern to the placement of the squares since that’s how his Grandmother Crady did it, but just a tossing on is okay with me.

We bake the mixture for about twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven, until the edges are crispy and very brown. Adam’s father, Les, spoons his mac ‘n’ cheese from the middle, but the rest of us will fight for the edges! Heather will scrape the corners so clean that sometimes a scrubby is not necessary when washing the dish.

We like mac ‘n’ cheese by itself, but a classic meal in the Whitley household will include chuck roast (bone-in preferred), rice, brown onion gravy, green beans, and, of course,mac ‘n’ cheese, which undeniably is the star of the show.

In homage to Adam Lee Whitley: His memorial Mac ‘n’ Cheese Bake-off will benefit an HGTC Culinary Arts student and will be held on September 19thin Historic Downtown Conway at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street.

Adam’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese

1 pound elbow macaroni
1 teaspoon salt added to water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup half and half
⅔ cup evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound hoop cheese (or mild cheddar)  
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (powdered) optional
1/8 teaspoon sage is also good

Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions, adding salt and olive oil to boiling water. Drain, and set aside. Grate hoop cheese; set aside, reserving about 2 tablespoons for garnish. Beat eggs; add 1 tablespoon flour and ½ teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup half and half and 2/3 cup evaporated milk. 

Mix well; add cheese, being careful not to stir too much.  Garnish top with reserved cheese. Pour into buttered baking dish and bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.     

About this writer

  • Barbara Crady Whitley is a Master Baker and owner of Crady’s Eclectic Cuisine on Main Street in Conway, South Carolina. She offers cooking classes once a month. For more information visit: cradys.com, find them on Facebook or call 843-248-3321.

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