This year, I was entrusted with the task of making my mom's mac-and-cheese recipe for Thanksgiving.
The most important step is seasoning everything from the pasta to the cheese sauce.
Even though it was stressful, I had fun making it and I was proud of myself for carrying on a family tradition.
Though it's not exclusive to the culture, mac-and-cheese is a staple in the Black community. The history of the dish in the US goes all the way back to the 1780s when Thomas Jefferson brought the recipe back after trying a version during a trip to Europe. However, it is believed that his chef de cuisine James Hemings, who was enslaved by Jefferson, was the one who learned how to cook the dish the French way and became one of the first people to make the dish in America. Today it can be found at just about every Black community and family function.
Not everybody is allowed to make the mac-and-cheese for a family gathering, so being entrusted with the task of making it for Thanksgiving was nerve-wracking.
My mom has always been the one to make it for the holidays, but this year she let me give it a go. I was determined not to disappoint.
I pushed my shopping to the last minute and found that stores were out of ingredients I needed.
Cooking in many Black families, including mine, is typically based on "feeling," so the measurements below are based on guesstimates.
Substitutions are not ideal. You can try variations, but the recipe may not taste the same.
For this recipe, you'll need:
1 box of pasta of your choice
1 1/2 cups of milk
4 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp of all-purpose flour
2 cups of freshly shredded Sargento extra sharp cheddar
1 cup of freshly shredded Sargento colby jack
1/2 cup of freshly shredded Sargento mozzarella
2 tbsp of Malher chicken-flavored bouillon
1 tsp of Frank's hot sauce
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)
paprika (to taste)
garlic powder (to taste)
onion powder (to taste)
a pinch of sugar
First, I boiled my pasta in chicken bouillon broth.
I added about 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of chicken bouillon powder to a pot and brought it to a boil.
I tasted my water — which is crucial to the process — and it was still a little light on flavor, so I added another tablespoon of the chicken bouillon.
My mom made sure I knew that making mac-and-cheese was about more than just the recipe. It's about following my heart and listening to my tastebuds.
While my noodles were boiling, I shredded my cheese.
I shredded my own cheese because I knew it would melt better in the sauce.
My mom's recipe calls for Sargento cheese, but I used another brand because all the stores nearby were out of Sargento.
In the end, I could taste the difference so next time, I'll do my shopping a little earlier.
Once the pasta was ready, I added more seasonings.
While the pasta was still hot, I transferred it to my baking dish and added 2 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of sugar.
Then, I mixed in 1/2 cup of shredded colby jack and 1/2 cup of shredded sharp cheddar.
It's important that this step is done while the pasta is still hot so that the cheese can melt into the noodles.
The next step in the process was making the cheese sauce.
I started with 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and cooked that down until it became a light-colored, thick paste.
Then, I slowly added in 1 1/2 cups of milk. Once incorporated, I added the rest of my cheese: 1 cup of sharp cheddar, 1/2 of colby jack, and 1/2 cup of mozzarella.
After everything was added, I stirred until the sauce was smooth without any clumps.
Then, I added even more seasoning.
I added 1 teaspoon of hot sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika to taste. In the future, I might add a bit of cajun seasoning for a little extra bite.
This was another instance where using the right brand is important — my mom's recipe specifies using Frank's hot sauce, but I had to use a substitution.
Finally, it's time to add the sauce to the pasta.
Once the cheese sauce was ready to go, I poured it on top of the pasta and mixed thoroughly. This part is important. Every noodle in the dish needs to be covered in sauce.
Finally, I topped it off with more cheese and paprika.
Once everything was mixed well, I added another layer of shredded sharp cheddar to the top with the 1/2 cup I had left.
Then, I sprinkled a layer of paprika over that "for color," as my mom likes to say.
Finally, I put it in the oven to bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
The finished product wasn't exactly like my mom's, but it was still really good.
When it came out of the oven, I was ready to dig in immediately and so was my family.
As nervous as I was to make it, it felt really good to be trusted with a beloved family recipe.
It was really tasty, but the general consensus was that it didn't taste quite like my mom's. In the future, I'd use the exact ingredients she told me to — brands and all.
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