By Helen Klein
My mother was a terrific woman, wise and witty and compassionate. She was an ace with a needle and thread, as well as with pencil or paint brush.
However, when it came to cooking, she was -- there’s no way to say this gently -- remarkably uninspired.
Given the fact that her mother was renowned as a fabulous cook, who could stretch the dough for an apple strudel the size of her dining room table without a single tear, my mom freely admitted that, in her case, the cooking gene had skipped a generation.She also acknowledged with good humor, whenever the subject of food came up, that she ate to live. Emphatically, she would continue, she did not live to eat.
We used to tease her that she was part vampire, because she never used garlic, and wouldn’t even go into a restaurant if she could smell it. She tasted cinnamon when she was in her 60s (she liked it) and eschewed mozzarella cheese because she knew without tasting it that she didn’t like any of those “strong Italian cheeses.”
So, it’s especially amazing that anything that came out of her kitchen would be worth replicating.
But, the macaroni and cheese that she would make on occasion, which featured a creamy body with a crunchy top, was the stuff of dreams for me, for far longer than I care to admit.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that she had passed her recipe on to me, I hadn’t made it for years, until my daughter -- who hates the boxed stuff -- suggested it on a chilly fall weekend.
I obliged, improvising as necessary when the recipe didn’t seem sufficiently clear, and the resulting casserole was as good as I remembered, melting unctuously on the tongue, the epitome of American-style comfort food.
Indeed, filling the house with tantalizing fragrances that were a precursor of a satisfying meal, it was truly the perfect recipe for a bitter day in late autumn, when the winds are whirling the leaves from the trees, and the rains beat down.
It’s so good, in fact, that it’s now part of the family inheritance, like my grandmother’s brass candlesticks and my mother’s Royal Doulton dinner service.
And, while my mother would undoubtedly hate the idea, maybe next time I whip up macaroni and cheese, I’ll improvise some more and make it with mozzarella, and a few lashings of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
But, no garlic, mom. I promise. No garlic.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound macaroni or other small shaped pasta, cooked and drained
2 cups milk
2 Tbl. flour
2 Tbl. butter
8 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups bread crumbs
2-3 Tbl. melted butter
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Combine milk, butter, flour, mustard, salt and pepper in small saucepan, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, till mixture begins to thicken.
At that point, begin adding grated cheese, a little at a time, stirring constantly, till cheese is melted and mixture is thick enough to cling to macaroni.
Combine cheese sauce and macaroni in large ovenproof casserole.Moisten bread crumbs with melted butter, and spread on top of macaroni mixture.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until bread crumb mixture is golden and crunchy.
Serves 4-6 as a main dish.