Friday, April 1, 2011

A Simple Tribute

Macaroni and Cheese

Part of who I am and how I cook is largely based on the amazing people I have encountered in my life. In fact, I can state without any hesitation or doubt that if I've spent any time with you, I've gleaned some bit of info about your family's food history, or received some recipe that I've incorporated into my own repertoire. For this I am truly blessed. This past week, someone special in my life has passed and though many will remember her for the different ways that she touched them, I have 3 very important reasons to honor her. My closeness to her came through her daughter who is one of my oldest and dearest childhood friends.

I remember being petrified after landing my first job because I did not know how to count change back (yes, the old-school way before computers did it all for you). I was a slow learner but it was important to her that I succeed in this job and she spent countless hours teaching me until I got it. A month later, the business got registers that calculated the change automatically, but she told me that you can't always rely on machines in life, but instead you need to rely on yourself. Many years later, I was teaching my own son how to count change for his first job and realized I was saying those exact same words to him when he felt he did not "need" to know how because the computer did that.

She also taught me the song "Chantilly Lace" and whenever I hear this song I think of her and a smile comes over my face, reminding me of a very personal memory. The most important thing I learned from her that will stick with me and get passed down for generations to come is that Macaroni & Cheese did not originally come in a blue box.

I was 16 years old and her daughter and I walked into her house when I smelt this aroma coming from the oven. It was a loaf of "Bridgford" brand white bread. I also saw, resting on the counter, a golden, bubbly casserole. I had grown up with the blue box and, up until this point in my life, had never encountered "real" Macaroni and Cheese. I remember that I could not stop eating it and thought I had found pure heaven. I begged her to teach me how to make it and, of course, she did. She showed me how to make white sauce, how to add the cheese and a tiny pinch of dry yellow mustard. Unknown to her at the time, she planted the seed to explore a whole new world of culinary passion with this one little recipe. To this day, I still use her recipe (though I will occasionally change the cheese flavors) and this is the recipe I have taught my kids, and hopefully what they will teach theirs. When you think about it, she played a profound role in teaching me comfort and as I write this, I hold back the tears because we often forget how we've been molded and how our current passions are but little seeds so often planted by others in our youth. The last note I had from her was 2 weeks ago when I had just come back from the TechMunch food and technology conference and my head hurt from all of the information I had absorbed. My Facebook status read "Home from a long day of information & trying to figure out what panels were the most informative for me. Think I will bake some cookies while deciding." Her response was simply "That is so Krissy."

Jackie I will miss you, I will think of you whenever I make Macaroni & Cheese, I will smile when I hear "Chantilly Lace", and I will wear your apron proudly. Rest in Peace dear Lady.

Jackie's Mac-N-Cheese
(As I remember her teaching me)

1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup of flour
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground dry mustard
2 cups of elbow macaroni

2 cups of milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (you can change out any kind of cheese you like. I use a combination of sharp cheddar and gruyere)

Heat oven to 350.
Cook macaroni as directed on package, drain and place in a large bowl.

In an 8-quart pot, melt butter and add flour, mustard, salt & pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is golden and bubbly. Slowly whisk in milk, stirring constantly over low heat until it comes to a light boil and starts to thicken. Boil and stir for one minute. Take off heat and stir in cheese. Continue to stir until all cheese is melted. Pour over cooked pasta in bowl. Incorporate all the sauce and macaroni. Pour mixture into casserole dish. Bake uncovered 25 minutes until golden brown on top. I like to add another crunchy topping of bread crumbs or extra shredded cheese but she made it plain and that was just perfect too.

I have made dozens of Macaroni and Cheese recipes over the years and the following recipe from Rachael Ray is one that I'm including because it's also one of my favorites and I love to make it.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese