By Jeanne K. Callen
I married a man who forgot the recipe for ice water the day we got married, but I had a father who was a great cook.
Dad was the youngest of nine and by the time he came along he had older siblings who worked the farm or had jobs and families of their own, so his mom who was in her mid-life kept him home to help in the kitchen.
He knew how to construct an earthen potato cellar that kept the tubers a cool 65 degrees year round; he knew how to can vegetables, fruit, and meats, and he could cook all the southern staples, deliciously.
My mom, who grew up a farm hand, learned a lot about cooking from Daddy and became a good cook in her own right; she was the baker in the family. Her biscuits, pies, cookies and cakes were next to none.
I spent a lot more time in the kitchen with dad because mom worked week-ends at the hospital and also because I wanted to be where ever he was anyway.
One of my favorite memories is watching dad at the stove making “sling-shot gravy”, his term, and I don’t know why he called it that.
As he vigorously stirred the flour and seasoning in the grease his butt would shake like a hula dancer. Then when it was a dark golden brown he would pour in a milk water mixture and stir to creamy perfection.
One of the best dishes I make is his macaroni and cheese soufflé.
He called it a soufflé` because he would beat eggs with milk until it looked like light cream when he poured it over the layers of cheese and pasta, and then it would rise light and airy like a soufflé.
I’ve been asked to cook it for other people’s special occasions and even a few weddings.
I cooked it for our daughter Jennifer’s wedding.
Just this week I was asked to write the macaroni and cheese recipe down to be included in a compilation of family recipes to be given to our niece Adrianne who is getting married next Saturday, and for our four year old grandson Jackson’s birthday meal today.
I’ve enjoyed thinking of daddy today as I made the soufflé and cooked the pasta in the big pots he cooked with, and I decided to dedicate this column to his recipe.
The recipe that follows will feed 10 to 12 people as a side-dish and fits in a 10.5 X 14.75 baking dish, or a disposable aluminum lasagna pan.
If you want a smaller soufflé, cut the recipe in half. This is not an exact recipe, tweak as needed or desired.
It’s not hard to make but I’m including daddy’s tips that he learned from his mother that make it extraordinary.
1 large package of large elbow macaroni
1 stick of unsalted sweet cream butter
6 large eggs
3 cups of whole milk
Salt and pepper
A lot of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 4-6 cups
In a 6-1/2 quart pot, fill to just over half and bring to a boil with two shakes of salt. If you don’t have a big pot, use a smaller pot and cook pasta in two batches. It’s important not to crowd the pasta as it cooks.
When the water boils, pour the pasta in and immediately stir to keep it from sticking, stir occasionally until it boils again, and then let boil for two or three minutes and remove from heat, cover and let stand five minutes, the pasta will continue to cook and grow.
It’s important not to stir too often once the pasta softens or over-cook the pasta so it won’t collapse. As Daddy said, “Cheese should ooze from every macaroni;” when it’s done, and if it collapses it will be a sticky starchy mess, which is why I usually don’t care for most other mac and cheese.
When the pasta is done, spoon half into baking dish with a slotted spoon but don’t drain completely. Let a little pasta water in with each scoop.
Salt and pepper the layer to taste, spread half the butter in pats then completely cover in shredded cheese, and then repeat.
Beat eggs in a big bowl until very light yellow and frothy, and then pour in milk, continuing to beat until creamy in texture and frothy. I use a hand whisk but an electric mixer will work too. Pour over pasta and cheese until soupy but cheese is still visible.
Bake at 400 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. The top will be golden and slightly black and entire the casserole should be bubbling.
Wait 15 minutes to enjoy.
Let me know if you cooked it and what you thought, my dad Louie would be so proud!