Here it is!
The ultimate comfort food, known to cure sadness, headaches, morning sickness and especially that "after-church-didn't-I-eat-anything-for-breakfast?" kind of hunger. This recipe involves everyday ingredients that, unfortunately for my best nutritional efforts, are usually in my fridge and cabinets.
First you need:
salted butter - the "realer" the better.
I've used margarine before and gotten OK results, but Pappa uses the real thing.
Next you need:
Pappa uses self-rising flour, I have used all-purpose in the past. Pappa's Mac is always better than mine, you decide. All I'm saying is that, in a pinch, all-purpose flour will work but will not be the BEST.
Next, whatever kind of milk floats your boat, or your pasta, as the case may be.
With these three simple ingredients we are going to make a fancy sounding French sauce called béchamel. (I don't say that word around these parts. Makes my Man sweat a little bit to hear that we're eating French food!) Béchamel sauce is simply what is referred to in cookbooks as white sauce. White sauce can be adjusted to whatever thickness the recipe requires. Pappa's béchamel sauce is thinnish.
First, melt 4 Tablespoons (1/2 of a stick) of butter in a sauce pan.
Add a generous tablespoon of the self-rising flour and stir to combine. Allow the butter and flour to cook for a few minutes so that the flour flavor is cooked away.
Finally, add 2 and 1/2 cups of milk, salt and pepper to taste, and whisk constantly (unless you have a two year old, then you should whisk then check on her then whisk a bit more then check on her, etc. which will save you from cleaning up any number of disasters) until the mixture comes to a boil. Allow to boil for a minute or so then remove from heat and let cool just a little bit.
Meanwhile, on another burner, cook the macaroni noodles in a large pot of salted water until they are barely soft (they'll cook the rest of the way in the oven). Strain them, and place in a 9x13 casserole dish.
Pour the white sauce over the pasta in the casserole dish. Stir to evenly distribute.
Now for the star of the show...
No Molly! Not you...hold up that bag!
The CHEESE! Now, this part is important. Pay attention because if Pappa Charles comes to visit you and you tell him you've got cheese for this dish and you have merely "Cheddar" and not "Sharp Cheddar" Pappa will give you this very scary look and head down to Kroger and commandeer some "Sharp Cheddar". So please only Sharp Cheddar for this dish, you must promise. I'm tellin' ya, that look of Pappa's is scary!
Swipe the bag of cheese from your two year old and sprinkle two cups of the SHARP cheddar over the macaroni and white sauce
and stir gently as the cheese melts.
At this point you will have to try really hard not to break out a spoon and begin eating. It's good this way, I'm told, but it tastes much better after it's baked. Instead, add more SHARP cheddar to top the casserole dish and head to the oven.
Bake in a 350 degree oven until bubbly. If you choose, you can turn on the broiler after baking and brown the cheese to the desired color (but really, why prolong the process??).
When it looks like this:
...remove from oven and eat. Be careful not to burn your mouth. You'll want to take a bite looooooonnnnggg before it's cool enough. I always do!
Papa C's Mac 'N Cheese:
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 stick of butter (4 TBSP)
1 (heaping) tablespoon self-rising flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups SHARP (only!) cheddar cheese, shredded plus more for topping
salt and pepper to taste
THANKS PAPPA CHARLES!!