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
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1/3 cup sour cream
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 pound Velveeta, cubed
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded colby jack cheese
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 butter or oil spray. (You can grease with butter instead if you prefer.)
4. In a large bowl, mix evaporated milk, eggs, sour cream, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, milk and softened butter with a whisk.
5. Add the cubed Velveeta and half of the other cheeses to the bowl.
6. Add the drained macaroni to the bowl and stir all together.
7. Pour the macaroni mixture into the 13-by-9 pan.
8. Bake for about 13 minutes, then remove from oven and stir to incorporate the Velveeta well.
9. Top with the other half of the shredded cheeses, then put back in the oven and bake for another 12 minutes.
10. Check to see if the macaroni is done (mostly solid and not runny), then put on broil for about 30 seconds, just enough to crisp up the cheese layer on top.
Allow to cool before serving. Then dig in, and don’t expect much leftovers with this one!