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. (more…)