Cousin Deonna’s Perfect Mac & Cheese

July 23, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Mac & cheese is a classic side for barbecue, which of course it not the same thing as grilling, the subject of the current DCCC book (Global Grilling by Jay Solomon.) But there are some dishes in the book, burgers and baked beans, for example, that would go fabulously with an all-American mac & cheese.

This is my cousin Deonna’s recipe, which she made for multitudes of aunts, uncles, and grandchildren at one of our family reunions. It is perfect, neither too saucy nor too dry, and it tastes like the best of all the mac & cheeses you ate as a child, rolled into one. (You will be able to relate to this if gourmet four-cheese versions, such as those embellished with lardons and garnished with fresh herbs, were not the stuff of your mom’s or grandmother’s kitchen.) As soon as I tasted it, I had a sneaking (and sinking) feeling that Velveeta was involved, which turned out to be the case. Deonna says it is the only recipe she makes that uses Velveeta. Here it gives a flavor and, most importantly, a velvety texture that many of us have come to associate as characteristic of quintessential mac & cheese. But before 1927, when Velveeta became Velveeta, this wasn’t so. I am determined to find a Velveeta substitute to create a mac & cheese that mimics the classic taste of Deonna’s recipe as closely as possible. It may be a fool’s errand, since comparing a food product with, well, food, is like comparing apples and oranges. How close can I get? I don’t know (Deonna, for one, is skeptical), but I like the adventure of it all.

First step: try this recipe to see just how perfect it is, and then please let me know if you have any ideas for Velveeta substitutes. (The photograph shows me making Deonna’s recipe at home. My boyfriend quickly grabbed a camera to document me using Velveeta, for all the world to see. Notice his strategic positioning of the Velveeta box. He labeled the photo “busted.”)

No wait. First of all go to Saveur magazine to vote for the recipe. If I win, I plan to donate the prize (a gift certificate to Sur La Table) to a culinary program for under-served kids. Initially, I’d planned to submit a Velveeta-free version to the BBQ side recipe competition at Saveur but am only now getting around to recipe development (and the cut-off is July 25). But doing it this way gives me a chance to shame myself publicly, get substitution ideas from you, and work those into the mix.  Please send suggestions for worthy culinary programs for donating the prize as well, just in case.

The Recipe
(from Deonna Riegler)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound elbow macaroni
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), plus extra for buttering casserole
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon salt, divided
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
2 cups whole milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
16 ounces Velveeta, cut into small cubes
Several shakes of Tabasco sauce
1 sleeve soda crackers, crushed
4 tablespoons (½ stick) melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch casserole.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. When boiling, add the oil and macaroni and cook until the macaroni is just tender, about 7 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain well and return to the pot.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the ½ cup of butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes, and then stir in the flour, the ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the white pepper. Cook for a few minutes, while stirring, to remove raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until smooth and thick, stirring frequently. Slowly add the cheeses, while stirring. When the cheeses are fully melted, stir in the Tabasco. Pour the cheese mixture into the pot with the macaroni and stir to evenly coat the noodles.

In a bowl, combine the crushed soda crackers with the 4 tablespoons of melted butter.

Transfer the mac-n-cheese to the buttered casserole. Sprinkle with the soda cracker topping. Bake until bubbling around the edges, about 35 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side


1 Comments to “Cousin Deonna’s Perfect Mac & Cheese”

  1. Well I still do not know if you will come up with a substitution, but I will be rooting for you!! Good luck.


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