Mac and Cheese

I had a craving for macaroni and cheese today. I’m sure it was prompted by a conversation with a friend yesterday about side dishes and one of the ones we talked about was mac and cheese.  When I started thinking about what to have for dinner (this morning and not ten minutes before it’s time to eat as is usually the case!), I knew we’d have the chicken I had thawed out yesterday that we didn’t eat last night. (We decided to indulge in our monthly all you can eat shrimp at a local restaurant instead). But, what to fix to go with that chicken? Potatoes, rice, green beans, broccoli…these are my usual go to’s. Standing there looking at my pantry, trying to decide what to fix, my eyes settled on the box of elbow macaroni. YES! I was pretty sure I had all of the ingredients. Mac and cheese, the ultimate comfort food. As it turned out, I was a little short on milk but had some whipping cream that I used to make up the difference.  I was also a little short on the amount of cheese I needed to make it awesome, but enough to make it good.

I’m not talking about just any old mac and cheese that you can get anywhere. Nope, I’m talking about honest to goodness, homemade mac and cheese. The kind my Nanny makes. The died and gone to heaven one that you get at family reunions. The one that comes in a baking dish and bubbles and smells soooo good while it’s cooking that your mouth waters and you can’t wait for it to cool before taking a bite.

This is the only kind of macaroni and cheese I make.  I was a teenager before I had macaroni and cheese out of a box at a friend’s house. I honestly didn’t know how to act when it was served because it was nothing like the mac and cheese I had eaten all of my life. But, it was good. Not bad at all, really. But, not what I would consider real mac and cheese. Because it just wasn’t what I was use to. Please don’t get me wrong-I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with even the store brand of mac and cheese (although we all KNOW that the name brand is better!). For me, it just boils down to personal preference and I prefer my mac and cheese baked from scratch.

When my son was a toddler, he stayed at an in home daycare with a wonderful lady that took great care of him. She fed him lunch and snacks every day and always gave me a report on what he had eaten when I picked him up. One day, she told me he had eaten two helpings of mac and cheese and a hot dog for lunch. Great!, he’s always had a good appetite. But, wait a minute…he didn’t like mac and cheese!! And, believe me, I had tried many times to give it to him because it was a favorite at our house. When I asked her what kind of mac and cheese (and could she show me the brand), imagine my surprise when she pulled out the local store brand box. I could have saved myself a lot of time by using that instead of boiling noodles, grating cheese, and getting my kitchen all hot by turning on the oven to bake MY mac and cheese.

Okay, all honesty here, it’s not MY mac and cheese. It’s my Nanny’s recipe and one of the first ones I asked for when I got married and started cooking for my own family. It is SO good y’all. My cousin says that if she shows up at a potluck without it, she’s sent home and not allowed to come back until she’s made a pan of it. We don’t have the whole big shebang dinners at Nanny’s house like we use to but one of the dishes we do have is mac and cheese.  I’m off to sample it now that it’s cool enough to eat without burning my mouth. Enjoy!

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MACARONI AND CHEESE

8 oz package of elbow macaroni

8-10 ounces cheddar cheese, grated

1 egg, beaten

4 ounces sour cream

½ stick butter

2 cups milk

Cook macaroni until tender and drain. Add butter and salt. Stir well until butter is melted. Add sour cream and egg. Stir. Add milk and stir in cheese. Pour into baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until firm. Optional: sprinkle paprika over the top of the macaroni mixture before baking for added color.

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The Magic Oven

I visited my 90 year old grandmother earlier this week since I wasn’t able to be at her house on Mother’s Day when everyone else was there. As much as I enjoy seeing everyone on holidays like that, I really prefer going when no one else is there and I have her all to myself. It’s much more relaxed and she and I can just sit and visit. She doesn’t hear well anymore and when there are a lot of people there, all that noise makes it even harder for her toIMG_2733 hear.

I called on Sunday to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and make sure that the day I wanted to come would be a good day to visit. You never know with her…she stays busy and isn’t always home when we all think she should be. Plus, she has doctor’s appointments and such. Anyway, it was a good day for her and we made our plans. I told her I’d be there in the afternoon and would take her out for dinner before I left. She said that would be good and she was looking forward to it.

I arrived a little later than planned but not by much and we had a really nice visit; just sitting and chatting. After I’d been there a while, I went and got the bird feeder I’d brought for her deck and set about getting it filled and put up. I noticed her tomato plants needed watering so she and I went into the kitchen to get the watering jug so I could give them a good drink. Talk turned to what we were going to have for dinner.

I should back up here and say that, for the first time in a long time, my grandmother’ s kitchen was spotless when I arrived. Not that she doesn’t keep a clean kitchen, but usually when any of us come to visit, she has been in there cooking all day and there’s pots and pans in the sink to be washed and food on the stove, that sort of thing. Because she is going to feed us and you can’t feed people and keep your kitchen cleaned up all the time. That’s just the way it is. So, I was a little surprised, but pleasantly so because I thought, “Oh, good, she’s actually going to let me take her out for dinner.” I should have known better.

Back to the what we’re going to do for dinner conversation…She told me if I didn’t mind, she would like to just stay home and have something there. The hearing issue is even worse in restaurants-lots of background noise there- so I completely understand her reluctance to go out. Fine. I could go get something and bring it back. “Welllll,” she said, “I have some leftovers that need to be eaten if you wouldn’t mind having that.”  I was totally fine with that as anything my grandmother cooks is delicious and left overs have never bothered me.   So, I went outside to water the tomato plants.

This is when the magic happened. Five minutes later I walk back into the kitchen and there was a feast laid out on the island. Seriously. A feast. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried squash, green beans, carrots, and cornbread muffins.  She pulled a fast one on me and had it all hidden in the oven just waiting for me to agree to stay there and eat. Her oven is magic, I tell you. Magic. IMG_2748

Did I mention that my grandmother is 90 years old? She still loves to cook. LOVES it! It is her thing. She’s an excellent cook and is one of those people that can make a meal for ten out of seemingly nothing. Puttering in the kitchen is therapy and soothes her like knitting soothes me. We’ve tried for years to get her to let us bring food for various occasions and family gatherings but she won’t have any of it. Well, we can but she’s still going to cook and she’s so much better at it than any of us I don’t know why we bother. Cooking food and feeding people is her love language and she doesn’t know how not to do it.

Not only did she have a feast for us for dinner, she had made my favorite dessert; a chocolate meringue pie. IMG_2750She makes THE best chocolate pie and spoils me terribly by making one for me whenever I come to visit.  I usually eat too much of it but this time I used restraint and only had a small piece.  I know that my grandmother isn’t always going to be around to spoil me with her good food and even better hugs so I am soaking these times up and saving them in my heart to remember when I need a hug. As long as she wants to, and is able, I’m going to let her cook for me and not nag her about doing too much.  After all, she has that magic oven that produces some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and she might as well let it do its thing.