Mac, Cheese, Mom

MAC & CHEESE à la Mom

My sister sent me an email asking if I knew how our mom made mac & cheese, because her daughter was suddenly craving it. It was a standard dish my mom made, especially around holidays. So typed in “macaroni” into a search of an old hard drive of hers I have, and up popped the recipe in a folder called “pasta.” I clicked out one later from “pasta” to “recipes,” and there I found a trove of 749 recipes she had saved to this computer. Some are hers, some are from chefs and cookbook authors she liked, some are adaptations of published recipes. She has a page of notes from the 2010 Thanksgiving dinner, when my kids were 3 & 1 respectively.

The soup was on the stove and my wife went upstairs to change out of work clothes and I started to sob at the kitchen table.

This is not how we make mac and cheese. My wife makes a béchamel and instead of pouring warm milk, let alone cold milk, on top of the noodles. But it’s what my mom did. I could taste the sharp cheddar and the breadcrumb crust seasoned with dried herbs and spices as I cried. I can taste it now.


Image description: “MAC & CHEESE à la Mom” as a screenshot, because that’s how she wrote it in a wordperfect document from 1997, and I wanted to preserve it just like that.


For the whole family, I use 1 lb. box of small elbow mac. For 2, use 2 cups or slightly less, adjust the pan size accordingly. Heat up a big pot of water, when boiling add a little salt, cook mac for about 8 min. (al dente). Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425.

Using VERY SHARP CHEDDAR, make enough very thin slices for the topping, and dice the rest. How much? Who knows. When it looks like you’ve got enough! A cup? more, if you like it very rich.

Gather on the counter:

garlic salt

seasoning salt, or any reasonable replica

hot chili pepper, ground (optional)

dried oregano


plain bread crumbs


Drain mac in a colander. Dump into a baking pan. Dump the diced cheddar and stir to mix. Add, to taste, the first four seasonings (go easy on the chili pepper!). If you don’t happen to have any of these, experiment with others.

Warm the milk if you can, otherwise put it in cold. No harm done. Put in enough JUST until you see it appearing under the top layer of mac. Tip the pan so that all the mac is coated with the milk. Cover the mac with the very thinly sliced cheese. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, more of the seasoning, and finally paprika to brown it. Cook HOT for 15-20 min., until top is nicely browned and milk is bubbling away.

Remove from oven. Let it settle a little, and serve w/ salad.


If you try and cook it, let me know. I’m going to share a very good eggplant dish next week that my mom made all the time. I hate eggplant though. Life, well, it’s complicated.

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