Wednesday, April 28, 2010

American Dinner: Mac n Cheese!!


Ok the title isn’t too American; but I can assure you the end product is as American as warm Apple Pie. Recorded in an English cookbook in the 14th century; Makerouns is a cheese and noodle casserole. Yes good old American Mac and Cheese!

Although the roots of Mac and Cheese can be traced back to Marco Polo and his trip to China; this down home, stick to your bones American comfort food has a strong American past. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson returned to the United States after a trip to Europe while he was the minister to France. Jefferson was a foodie and he brought with him a pasta machine along with many recipes from Italy. What happened next is up for debate but it has been documented in the Library of Congress; one of his guests reported eating “a pie called macaroni,” an early version of what we now call Baked Macaroni and Cheese. It is also said the first serving was by Thomas Jefferson at a White House dinner in 1802 and the first American recipe was published in 1824 by Mary Randolph (Jefferson’s cousin); titled “The Virginia Housewife.” Another American President, Ronald Regan, who absolutely loved Mac and Cheese, had his White House staff prepare the following recipe:

½ pound macaroni, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 egg beaten, 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1 cup of warm milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and pinch of paprika.
Preheat the oven to 350
F, butter a 2-quart casserole dish; add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes; drain in a colander, transfer to a mixing bowl; stir in butter and beaten egg, add 2 ½ cups of the grated cheese. In a small bowl combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce; spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole; pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika; bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch, the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entrée accompanied by a hot green vegetable and a crisp salad; or as a side dish with hamburgers or meatloaf, two more American staples.

Obviously times changed since Jefferson introduced us to Mac and Cheese. Women began to look for changes outside of the kitchen, and convenient foods were introduced into the market. Mac and Cheese was already a family favorite in American kitchens at the start of the 20th century; Kraft Foods decided the time was right to introduce a dinner in a box, called Kraft Dinner. In 1937 Kraft Macaroni and Cheese made it to the grocery shelves in the USA and Canada; it soon became an instant success. At the start of World War II rationing went into effect; meat, milk and dairy were some of the products rationed. This was also the time when women joined the work force; while their men were serving in the military. After working 12 hours these same women needed something easy to prepare; hence the enormous boost of Kraft Mac and Cheese.

There are numerous names throughout the United States and our American timeline; and of course a wide variety of recipes. In Southeastern Connecticut it was called long ago a macaroni pudding; in Italy the dish was classically made with Parmesan cheese. There is also a variation in Switzerland called Alplermagronen; which means Alpine Herder’s Macaroni. Recently our beloved Mac and Cheese has received a bad rap for obesity. The boxed versions of this homemade favorite actually have fewer calories and fat then the higher quality homemade version. At home there are alternatives by using whole wheat noodles, skim milk, olive oil, etc. Overall I still like Mac and Cheese the way it comes; sticky, gooey, cheesy, yummy goodness.


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