Most of us in the American South love any place we can order a good “meat-and-three,” just a nice and simple plate with a main dish and a trio of sides, usually for a set menu price regardless of the combination of choices.
For such a meal, macaroni and cheese has always been one of my favorite sides. Of course, you’ve got to pick mac and cheese when it’s on the menu, right?
Specifically, I reflect on fond childhood memories of the scoops of mac and cheese I’d savor when Dad took us for an after-church lunch Jackson’s Cafeteria in the old Gaston Mall in Gastonia, N.C. It always seemed to be so rich and creamy with a thick layer of slightly browned and melted cheese on top.
That’s what I mean when I refer to “cafeteria” macaroni and cheese. It’s a specific type you find on a cafeteria serving line or at a potluck get-together. It’s super creamy, mega-cheesy, and it’s topped with that browned roof of cheese. You might even detect a slight crunch here and there when you bite into a noodle that browned while baking.
There are absolutely many ways to experience mac and cheese nirvana. Everyone has a favorite recipe and knows a person who unquestionably makes the best mac and cheese they’ve ever had. We’ve got quite a few favorites ourselves, but we believe this recipe from Robbie Montgomery of the Sweetie Pie’s soul food restaurant chain is as delightful as any at reproducing the experience of exceptional cafeteria-style mac in a home kitchen.
Let us know what you think!
Baked Cafeteria-Style Mac & Cheese
What You Need:
2 cups dry macaroni
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons butter, divided
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded colby jack cheese
1/2 pound Velveeta cubed
What You Do:
1. Boil water and cook your macaroni. Drain and rinse it in cold water.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. Grease a 13-by-9 pan with 1 tablespoon of your butter.
4. In a bowl, mix evaporated milk, eggs, sour cream, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper with a whisk.
5. Pour macaroni into your 13-by-9 pan. Stir in the whisked-ingredients mixture.
6. Dot the top of your macaroni mixture with your remaining 4 tablespoons of butter.
7. Stir in half of the shredded cheeses, and distribute the Velveeta cubes across the pan.
8. Add the 4 tablespoons of milk, and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
9. Stir the mixture well before putting it in the oven.
10. Bake for 25 minutes, then broil for 5 minutes, just enough to begin browning the cheese layer on top. Halfway through baking, you may want to remove the pan from the oven and stir gently to help the cheeses melt well.
After broiling, allow your macaroni and cheese to cool before serving. Then dig in, and don’t expect much in the way of leftovers with this one!