Sunday, September 6, 2009

Crazy, Red-Headed Old Aunt Estelle

When I was a little girl, my mom's family all lived right near each other. I think the story went something like: Mama Wiehunt and Daddy Bill (my maternal great-grands) had a house on Sylvan Circle in Brookhaven. They had four kids: Willie May (aka Billie, my grandmother), Violet, Albert, and Estelle. The three girls were evidently as different as sisters could be -- right down to the color of their hair. Grandmother had black hair, Violet had blond hair and Estelle, well, she had red hair. And, in our family, that meant something. What, I'm not sure, but it "told us a lot about her." Legend has it that she actually willed her straight hair to be curly.

Anyway, I think the second house on the left past Mama Wiehunt and Daddy Bill's was Estelle and her husband John's. But, for most of my memory, they lived a few miles away in a big house with carpeting and stairs. You see, Aunt Estelle married a "Cheek" which meant she married into a family that was well-established in Dunwoody -- at least that's what Grandmother always told me. Most of what I remember about Aunt Estelle was stuff my grandmother TOLD me about her. Not that I didn't spend time with Aunt Estelle -- I did -- but because my dear grandmother never -- and I mean never -- shut up. And, when she ran out of new stuff to talk about, she'd talk about her sisters.

My other memories about Estelle were, of course, having meals. She made the BEST macaroni and cheese I ever had. She actually used spaghetti instead of macaroni. Whenever we had a family dinner I'd run to greet her and the first thing out of my mouth was always a query as to whether or not she'd brought mac and cheese. By the time I was old enough to start caring about recipes, Aunt Estelle was already gone to be with Jesus. So, I've done my best to create a recipe that brings to mind Aunt Estelle's mac n cheese.

The other memory -- since I'm on the subject -- was that Aunt Estelle had Fiesta Ware. Those beautiful, richly-colored plates and bowls that were mixed-matched. So I could be eating on an orange plate while my brother had a blue one and mom's was yellow. It was VERY groovy. No one in my family was groovy, so Aunt Estelle having groovy plates was a big deal.

Since I don't have her recipe, I've had to make up my own. The one thing I'll mention about this recipe is that a dish is never any better than the ingredients you put into it. If you use skim milk and cheap or pre-shredded cheese it's NOT going to taste right and you MAY not claim that you've made my mac n cheese. You must use the right stuff and realize that one or two servings of this stuff won't kill you.

Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 box Cavatappi (this is spiral macaroni that is hollow and has ridges on it. See the picture? This is important to the texture, heft and cheeziness of the mac n cheese. You can use elbow macaroni if you MUST)
  • 1 tbsp dry mustard
  • 2 tbsp corn starch (you can buy non-GMO corn starch, and I recommend doing so)
  • 2.5 cups whole milk
  • 2 pounds Good-Quality Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Cracker Barrel or Kraft is fine)
  • 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted

Bring a stock pot of water to a boil and pour in the Cavatappi. Return it to a boil and cook pasta for 7 minutes. Pasta should be al dente, or firm, but done. When this is done, strain it, return it to the large stock pot and add a little butter so that it doesn't all stick together. For heaven's sake don't go rinsing that pasta after your drain it. you need all of the starch on the pasta to help the cheese stick.

While pasta is boiling, in a large saucepan place the mustard and corn starch. Slowly add the milk, stirring with a whisk. Put this over medium-high heat and whisk occasionally until the sauce is thickened. While this cooks, grate your cheese.

DO NOT use pre-grated cheese. It's just plain nasty. One time, when I couldn't get the stuff to melt right and noticed that it had this white powder-y stuff on it, I researched it... just don't use it. It doesn't melt, it tastes bad, it's more expensive and, well, it's nasty.

Let the sauce boil for about 1 minute then turn off the heat.

Add most of the grated cheese, saving aside enough cheese to lightly cover the top later. Stir the sauce and cheese until all cheese is melted and pour over macaroni. Mix it all up. Pour it into 9 x 13" casserole dish. Top the macaroni and cheese with the cheese you set aside.

Take the crackers and pulverize them. I like to leave them in the sleeve and just mash them up in there. Just be careful not to tear the sleeve or you'll have Ritz Cracker dust all over your kitchen.

Pour the pulverized cracker crumbs into the melted butter and use a fork to stir until thoroughly mixed. Put mixture all over the top of the macaroni and cheese.

Bake in oven at 350 for about 30 minutes or until it is bubbling.


1 comment:

Tony Vila said...

Yum indeed. I love, love, LOVE your story, too - Your aunt willing her hair to be curly is perfect.