Good afternoon! As I was saying in an earlier post, I had so much to learn about Southern cooking. Like, everything. I learned a lot from spending a week-end with a group of lovely Church ladies preparing a big Church supper. There was ham, green beans, baked beans, fried cabbage, cornbread, the most heavenly biscuits, and different fruit cobblers for dessert. I had cooked all of these foods before, but never in this way. Everything was so delicious and flavorful and like nothing I ever had before. I will always be grateful for their patient teaching.
When my husband and I lived for two years in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, I joined the ladies of the local Community Center. They put on dinners, children’s parties for Christmas and other holidays, and once a year the Fall Festival. In preparation for the festival, a lot of canning was done (which was sold at the festival) and the peeling, coring, chopping, and cooking of bushel after bushel of apples. The day of the festival this was used in the making of apple butter in an enormous copper cauldron over a fire. It took all day and was canned at the end. It had to be stirred constantly with a huge wooden paddle to prevent scorching, and while the men handled that, anyone could take a turn. It was all quite labor intensive, but learning all of these all but lost arts was wonderful.
But my favorite teacher has been my mother-in-law Mabel. A great Southern cook herself, we were visiting one Easter week-end and she had hurt her knee. She sat in the kitchen with her leg up and instructed me through the making of a wonderful dinner. She taught me how to make things I had made before, but with her changes, it was just so much better.
One simple trick she taught me was about cayenne pepper. I have never been fond of spicy foods, so I was resistant at first. But what she showed me was that just a pinch or two in sauces, soups, stews, beans, and many other recipes really enhanced it, jazzing up the flavors without making it hot and spicy. And it works, in so many things.
So here is my recipe for Macaroni and Cheese. “Just a pinch or two of cayenne ” and the use of two different cheeses (and a lot of it) makes this something special!
The first thing to do is bring a big pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Add 1 – 16 oz box of elbow macaroni ( or any short pasta) to the water and cook until just prior to al dente. Drain well.
Put the same pot back on the stove over medium heat and melt 4T (1/2 stick) of butter. While it is melting, in a small bowl put 4T flour, 1t Kosher salt, 1t black pepper, and 1/4t cayenne pepper. When the butter is foaming, sprinkle the flour and spice mixture over the butter. Whisk flour into butter and cook, whisking constantly, 1 – 2 minutes until lightly browned. Cooking the flour is important, so your sauce doesn’t taste like flour.
Then, while continuing to whisk constantly, slowly stir in 2C whole milk. Continue to stir and cook until thickened and just starts to bubble. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Off the heat, using a wooden spoon, stir in 3/4C shredded Colby jack cheese and 3/4C shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Stir until smooth.
Add cooked macaroni back into pot with cheese sauce and mix well with a wooden spoon, coating all the pasta.
Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish lightly with cooking spray and transfer macaroni and sauce mixture into prepared pan.
Melt 3T butter in a microwave safe bowl. To the bowl add 1/2C Panko breadcrumbs and stir well to coat with butter.
Spread buttered breadcrumbs evenly over surface of macaroni. Bake casserole in 350 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes until hot, browned, and bubbly. Serve immediately.
You will see many more recipes that call for a pinch or two (or so) of cayenne pepper to add that extra bit of flavor to even the simplest of dishes. Even try it in prepared foods to give them a little kick! Enjoy this! We sure do!