This Meatless Monday post is one very close to my heart.
Growing up, my sister and I were very fortunate to have an amazing woman in our lives: Aunt Betty.
Aunt Betty isn’t actually our aunt, or even our great-aunt. In fact, we have no blood relation at all. She is simply a beautiful example of how the Universe can create the most unbelievably wonderful happenstances in our lives now and again.
When I was around 8 months old, my mother was preparing to go back to work after maternity leave, and put an advertisement in the local paper for a babysitter.
When my mother tells the story of how she came to meet Aunt Betty, my mind often wanders to the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when Sally Field’s character is exasperated from interviewing so many people who were so obviously wrong for the job. The relief and wonderment she experiences when Mrs. Doubtfire is finally interviewed, and is so, so perfect, and loving, and caring, and warm…that is how I picture Aunt Betty’s interview with my mother.
She became so much more than a babysitter. Her and her husband quickly became our family, and though we referred to them (and still do) as Aunt Betty and Uncle Charlie, they really were another set of grandparents to us…taking us for weekend sleepovers, introducing us to their church, and never missing a school event, concert performance, or soccer game.
I really could go on and on with stories about Aunt Betty and Uncle Charlie… how at a restaurant he would blow his straw wrapper at her when she wasn’t looking, how Aunt Betty would lovingly swat you with a kitchen towel when you were underfoot in the kitchen, how when you asked Uncle Charlie if he’d like a roll at dinner, he would reply ‘I’d rather cartwheel’ and let out a signature Uncle Charlie giggle.
I could go on about the invaluable loving life lessons they’ve taught me, and how they’ve molded me into the person I am today.
But, this is not ‘Meandering Mind Monday’, this is ‘Meatless Monday’, and I’ve promised you some Mac and Cheese!
Aunt Betty is famous for her mac and cheese. I’m not sure if its a recipe she came up with on her own, or if it’s one that was passed down from her mother, but everyone who knows her knows her mac and cheese. And now, you’re going to know it too!
I’ll be using a lot of photos, because this is one of those old world ‘recipes’ where the measurements aren’t really….measurements. And they’re kind of subjective, depending on how much cheese you really like. So if you’re very analytical and left-brained, use this as an exposure-therapy opportunity, and know that this is going to be mind-blowingly delicious, even without exact measurements!
Her recipe is different than most classic home-made mac and cheese recipes because it doesn’t use a roux base. Instead, you only use just enough water to cook the pasta, and don’t drain it afterwards. The starch that has leaked into the remaining water from the pasta, combined with the fat from the condensed milk, makes a sort of built in roux base! Its a much simpler, quicker way to make mac and cheese, and you don’t have to worry about your roux skills if they aren’t up to par!
I’m making this on a fairly large, casserole-pan sized scale because I’ll be taking it to a get-together, and my husband wants some to keep at home for him as well, but you don’t have to use a whole box of macaroni if you want to make a smaller amount.
You’ll need a pot large enough to cook your chosen volume of macaroni, plus the added volume of the cheese you’ll be adding. You’ll also need a casserole dish to transfer the macaroni to, because you’ll be baking it to get the top nice and crispy!
A dutch oven would work perfectly here, to minimize the amount of dishes you’ll have to wash, but if crispy cheese is your thing, you’ll get more surface area if you transfer to a wider and shallower casserole pan.
Aunt Betty’s Mac and Cheese (amounts used for tutorial photos)
1 32 oz box of macaroni
2 lbs of extra sharp cheddar cheese (the ‘extra sharp’ is really key here for authentic Aunt Betty’s Mac and Cheese flavor!)
1 5oz can evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Fill your pot with water, and get it boiling over high heat.
Once it’s at a rolling boil, turn off the heat, and add enough macaroni so that the water is JUST covering it. ( If you have a set amount of macaroni you want to use, simply pour off the extra water until it just covers the pasta.)
now, cover the pot, and set the timer for around 8-10 minutes. The time will vary depending on the pasta you’ve used, but in this case it was perfect after 10 minutes.
in the mean time, cut all of your cheese into cubes, roughly 1/2 inch in size. Don’t worry about uniformity here. You just want the pieces small enough that they’ll melt fairly quickly, and close enough in size that they’ll melt at roughly the same rate.
When your pasta is ready, it will have absorbed most (but not all) of the water. DO NOT DRAIN. Leave the remaining water in the pot.
Set the heat to medium-low.
Now you’re going to add some evaporated milk. This is the part that is the most difficult to relay measurement-wise. You want to add enough, but not too much, depending on the amount of macaroni you’re making. In this instance, I used an entire 5 oz can.
After you’ve stirred in the evaporated milk, start adding your cheese. Add a bit, stir it in, add a bit more, stir it in…etc.
You want to keep stirring every so often as the cheese begins to melt. Not continually, but often enough to make sure that the cheese, milk, and starchy water are getting well combined.
This step requires a bit of patience, but you don’t want to rush it. If you set the heat too high, you’ll end up with cheese that has melted too quickly and hasn’t had a chance to mingle with the starch and milk…resulting in clumpy melted cheese chunks and separate liquid. Low and slow is very worth it!
If you feel that its too dry, you can always add more evaporated milk a little bit at a time.
Once your cheese is all melted, and mingled with the milk and starchy water into a nice thick sauce, add your salt and pepper, and mix it in well. Aunt Betty’s signature way of making it is with a good amount of pepper, but you can of course always add more to taste at the dinner table!
Now carefully transfer it to your casserole dish, and pop it in the hot oven for 20-30 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.
25 minutes later…
To get the cheese on top to brown, turn on your broiler, and keep a very close eye. It won’t take long for the top to brown, and you don’t want it to burn!
Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes or so before digging in. Of course you want to eat this hot, but not so hot that you have molten cheese burning the roof of your mouth!
There you have it! Meatless Monday Mac and Cheese, Aunt Betty style!
Did you make it? What did you think? Let me know how you liked this unconventional Mac and Cheese method!