When I answered the phone last year around this time from a reader looking for a mac and cheese recipe from The Charlotte Observer’s archives, I could hear the panic in her voice.
I was focused on helping her find the story she was referencing, so I didn’t catch Deborah’s last name. But the part-time New Jersey, part-time Palm Beach, Forida, resident told me that her family was going to revolt if this dish did not make it to her Thanksgiving table.
I found the recipe she told me about and sent it to her, and she assured me I’d saved Thanksgiving.
A few days later, my friend Kim retweeted a very important PSA from The Root writer Michael Harriot: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but your family DOES NOT want you to ‘try something different’ with the macaroni & cheese.”
I thought about my new friend Deborah, of course.
I’m a huge mac and cheese fan myself, so of course — I had to try it myself at my own Thanksgiving dinner. Sorry Kim — that means my family got to try something different last year whether they wanted to or not.
And guess what? It was so good, I think it might be officially in the rotation now. (Though my mom’s will always be the best — come fight me on that!)
Mac and cheese and its double life
THE BACK STORY: In 2017, Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis wrote about macaroni and cheese leading a double life: On the holiday tables of Black families, and out of a box and not at holiday dinners of white families. (For the record, my white family missed the memo on this one — I grew up with Mom’s homemade mac and cheese at every holiday dinner.)
In that story (which is a great read — don’t miss it), she included the mac & cheese recipe that Deborah introduced me to. And now, I will share it with you here. If you make it, send us an email and tell us how it went!
Baked Macaroni & Cheese
Scoring a good recipe for a baked macaroni & cheese can be tricky, what with family secrets and all. This version, adapted from Epicurious.com, came from Robbie Montgomery of the Sweet Pie’s soul food chain. Using eggs, evaporated milk and Velveeta keeps it creamy. Mac & cheeses made only with shredded cheddar can be grainy.
- 2 cups dry, small elbow macaroni
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 5 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 tablespoons whole milk or half-and-half
- 2/3 pound (about 11 ounces, or about 2 1/2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/3 pound (about 5 1/2 ounces or about 1 1/4 cups) shredded colby jack cheese
- 1/2 pound Velveeta, cut in cubes
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente. Drain noodles in a strainer and rinse with cold water to cool.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 3-quart casserole dish or 13-by-9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
Combine the evaporated milk, eggs, sour cream, remaining salt, pepper and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl and whisk to mix well.
Pour the cooked macaroni into the prepared baking dish. Stir in the evaporated milk mixture. Dot with the remaining butter cut into cubes and stir in half the cheddar and all the colby jack. Distribute the cubes of Velveeta around the noodles. Stir it all up well while adding the milk. Pack it down into the dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese is melted. Place under the broiler about 5 minutes until it’s starting to brown in spots. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.