There are Two Kinds of Mac and Cheese
There are two schools of thought when it comes to macaroni and cheese. The first school believes that creaminess is king. The other thinks that the real king is a crisp topping. I am Switzerland. There is no bad macaroni and cheese. Every iteration brings new delights and its own set of charms. Macaroni and cheese is so pervasive in US culture that most people don’t remember the first time they ate it. We assume that every child in America adores it and that their mac and cheese of choice comes in a navy blue box. This was not the case for me. My mother made baked macaroni and cheese for me when I was little. Mostly this was because we moved around a great deal, and not every place we lived had Kraft Mac & Cheese available. I was probably seven years old before I discovered the wonders of nuclear yellow powdered cheese and thin pasta tubes.
I Fell Hard for the Big Blue Box
I was visiting family in Texas for the summer. School was out, and it was time to come to the US and see Grandma and Grandpa. My grandmother was an excellent cook, but she, like every other American woman, knew that children adore mac and cheese. So one night for dinner, we had the most ubiquitous of American meals: Mac and cheese, chicken fingers, peas and carrots, and ketchup. I was in love. So much so that when we got back home to Honduras, I wanted nothing but bright orange-yellow mac and cheese.
There is No Replacing the Big Blue Box
We were fortunate enough at the time to have help at home. My mother and father both worked full time and living in Central America afforded us the luxury of Lila. Our amazing cook. I was always under Lila’s feet. Watching what she was making, asking her questions, and offering to “help.” So when my mac and cheese addiction came into full bloom, I begged her to make my sister and me some for lunch. She agreed and whipped up a batch of her macaroni and cheese. The one she always made for me. Ever helpful, I mentioned that it was the wrong color. “Can you make it more yellow?” I asked. She thought for a moment and got the food coloring. She added a few drops and stirred it in. “Asi?” she asks… “like this?” “Noooooo” I reply. “More yellow, it should be brighter” she adds more, looking worried, but willing to try. “Asi?” she asked again. “No! Brighter!” I demanded. Poor Lila continued trying until she couldn’t take it anymore. “No mas, ya es bastante! No more, that’s enough!” Bratty seven-year-old that I was, I pouted. This mac and cheese was totally wrong. She had used the wrong noodles, and it was entirely the wrong color. UGH. (Lord, I was an entitled little brat.)
This disappointment in the color and quality of my mac and cheese was short lived. First, it was delicious, and second, I adored Lila, so pouting about her food and making her feel bad wasn’t exactly my favorite activity. She continued to make that mac and cheese for me as long as we lived in Honduras. Always adding that yellow food coloring (with a little added orange) to make me happy. Can we all take a moment to wonder in amazement and awe at this patient and kind woman?
I Find My Own Perfect Version of Mac and Cheese
Fast-forward ten-plus years and I cook for the family most nights. We are living in the US, and Kraft Mac & Cheese is readily available. At this point, while I still love it, I am also in love with the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Her classic recipe is a baked mac and cheese. It is simple, it is massive, and it has a perfect golden crispy crust. I made this recipe about once a week. My mother never said a word about the heavy rotation of baked mac and cheese and neither did my siblings. Until one fateful Thanksgiving when my brother finally told me, he thought it was gross. Poor kid, he ate that baked mac and cheese for ages and all he wanted was some Velveeta Shells & Cheese. I am no Lila. However, I rallied and discovered that delights of thick, gooey, cheesy non-baked mac and cheese. I’ve been hunting for the perfect version for years, and I finally found it. A combination of great melting cheeses and good ol’ Velvetta get you the perfect consistency every time. It’s quicker and easier to make than the baked kind which is another huge point in its favor. Have I changed allegiances once again? Am I now a creamy, gooey mac and cheese person? Nope. I love them both. What’s your favorite version? Are you team baked or team stovetop?
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