I made my mother's baked mac-and-cheese recipe for Thanksgiving. It was more stressful than I imagined.

alexis hampton holding mac and cheese next to her mother
I made my mom's mac-and-cheese recipe for ThanksgivingAlexis Hampton
  • 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.

ingredients for mac and cheese
Each ingredient plays an important role in the dish.Alexis Hampton

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.

boiling penne noodles
Adding flavor to your pasta makes for a better tasting mac-and-cheese.Alexis Hampton

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.

freshly shredded cheeses
I shredded my own cheese instead of buying it pre-shredded.Alexis Hampton

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.

penne pasta noodles in a corningware dish
This step is important to do while the pasta is still hot.Alexis Hampton

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.

sauce for mac and cheese
The sauce starts with a Béchamel base.Alexis Hampton

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.

seasoned cheese sauce for mac and cheese
The more seasoning you add, the more flavor you'll get.Alexis Hampton

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.

pouring cheese sauce on noodles
This was the moment that it all came together.Alexis Hampton

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.

mac and cheese before being baked
I also mixed in a little more paprika before topping it with cheese.Alexis Hampton

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.

alexis hampton holding mac and cheese next to mother
It felt really good to be the one to uphold tradition.Alexis Hampton

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.

Read the original article on Insider