Mary Jean’s Mac & Cheese….seriously better than any restaurant.

“Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.”  Mitch Hedberg

Mary Jean’s Mac & Cheese (photo by MJ Byers)

Dish:   Mary Jean’s Mac & Cheese

Everywhere you go, some restaurant is serving up what they claim is the “best” mac & cheese in the city, state country or world.  And, every time I sample these pretenders to the throne, I am inevitably disappointed as the dish is too runny, too bland, not cheesy enough, etc.  You name the deficiency and I’ve experienced it.

Except for one, and it’s a mac & cheese you can’t find in any restaurant.  Because it’s only on offer at my house. Oh, and at my mom’s – it’s her recipe. What follows here is her basic how-to, which will give you a mac & cheese with terrific taste and texture.  I’ve made a few refinements over the years, but I’m going to keep them to myself – a girl’s got to have some secrets, after all.  Hint:  experiment with the cheeses.

How Do I Make This?  To yield 2 quarts of mac & cheese (roughly 6-8 servings), you’ll need the following:

  • 2 cups elbow macaroni.  You can actually use any type of pasta you want, but I like the traditional elbows. Though, as you may be able to see from the photos, I ran out and had to toss in some orecchiette the last time I made this dish.
  • 2 cups milk, with a dash of salt and pepper (to taste) stirred in.  I use nonfat and it works just fine.  Don’t skip the pepper – it’s important to the flavor profile.
  • Grated cheese.  I’m not very scientific about measures with the cheese, but you’ll probably need 16 oz at a minimum.  My mother always uses a blend of sharp and mild cheddar. I’m not a big fan of cheddar but I do include it to achieve that traditional orange-y mac & cheese appearance.  I prefer to mix in some gruyere and then add one or two other “mystery” cheeses (that’s the secret I’m not going to tell you, but definitely try blending some cheeses that you enjoy).
  • Butter.  I generally use light butter and it works just fine.
  • Pyrex dish for baking (rectangular and clear).

Pre-heat your over to 350 degrees Farenheit (175-180 degrees Celsius).  And, prepare your Pyrex dish by buttering it.

Start by boiling the macaroni, but only for about half the time instructed on the package.  You want to macaroni to be tender, but not fully cooked since you’re going to be baking it.  Drain and set aside.

Lay down one layer of macaroni in your buttered Pyrex dish.  This should require roughly half the macaroni you’ve boiled.  Then, add enough cheese to completely cover the macaroni layer. And, finally, add some dabs of butter on top of the cheese – around 5 or 6 dabs should do it.  That completes layer #1.

Repeat the above, using the rest of your macaroni and cheese, again adding dabs of butter on top.  As a final step before the oven, pour your milk, salt and pepper mixture over the casserole.  The milk should come up to about half the height of the dish if you’re going to cook covered, or about ¾ of the way if you’re going to bake uncovered (this is why it’s best to use a clear Pyrex dish).

Bake for 45 minutes.  My mother bakes hers uncovered; I prefer to cover the dish with foil for about the first 20 minutes and then uncover it (this avoids browning from occurring too early).  Believe me – her method works just fine.  The covering-the-dish-thing is something I developed to deal with the variability of ovens, having moved homes an awful lot in the last few years. If you go the uncovered route, check the dish after about 30 minutes.  If it’s still milky (check by mashing down with a fork), you need to keep it baking.  If milk does not ooze up when you do the fork test, you can remove from the oven.  If you go the covered route, you will more than likely need the entire 45 minutes, but the fork-mashing test is still appropriate.

Let stand for a few minutes before serving.  Your taste buds will thank me, though your arteries will not.

Let the mac & cheese stand before serving… (photo by MJ Byers)

Expensive vs. Cheap:  Super cheap, unless you splurge on fancy cheeses.

Healthy vs. Tasty:  Ridiculously tasty but not even a little bit healthy.

Preparation Time/Ease:  Nothing tricky – just grating, boiling and baking.  About an hour should do it.


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1 Comment

  1. Suhaib says:

    Keep in mind that we were cooking for a lot of peploe and that 2 pounds of pasta is a lot. You can alway make 1 pound and just half the ingredients of the recipe.

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