My grandmother made the world's best macaroni and cheese, EVER. ANYWHERE. She taught my mom to cook it, and I've been trying to cook it as well, but not entirely successfully.
I was watching a show on Cooking Channel called Foodography - a show I really enjoy, BTW - and they profiled this place in New York City called Macbar, which serves only mac & cheese, in little yellow dishes shaped like elbow macaroni. Cute idea.
Here's where I get ticked, though.
The Macbar owner is Italian. Italians are, traditionally, excellent cooks. He stated that he cooked all his pasta a little less than al dente because the sauce or whatever else he added would finish cooking it.
"Al dente" means, in Italian, "to the tooth." Let's be clear, here: it means pasta that's undercooked, in my opinion.
My Mamaw didn't believe in "al dente." I'm sure she never heard that term, but if she had, she would've laughed and said "That's Italian for tough." [She studied Home Economics at Bessie Tift College and she knew everything in the world about cooking and food.]
She taught Mom how to cook mac & cheese and Mom taught me. In my house, we don't cook anything al dente.
NOTE: The boxed mac & cheese a lot of people eat? Not in my house. I tried it once when I was in college and was HORRIFIED. That's not food, it's a building material.
I'm not going to write out the recipe for Mamaw's mac& cheese in a formal way but if you love mac & cheese and you want to make it better than anyone else, take heed.
The mac & cheese rules:
1. Don't undercook the pasta. Look at the box. Take the cooking time and triple it. I am not kidding.
2. Make a basic white sauce, and add cheese, lots of it, stirring constantly. If you don't know how, look here. [I like to use Asiago and a mixture of other cheeses but plain old cheddar is just fine.]
3. Use real butter, and whole milk. [If you have a cholesterol problem just stop reading now.]
4. Depending on how much mac & cheese you are making, use 1-3 eggs to thicken the sauce, but you must do it carefully. If you aren't careful you'll have scrambled eggs. Make sure the sauce is cooled down to where it's just liquid. After beating your eggs in a separate bowl, you need to add a big spoonfull of the warm sauce to the eggs and beat them up, then slowly add the eggs to the sauce mixture, mixing carefully. Pour the sauce over the pasta in your 9x12 dish, and mix it with a spoon.
5. You only need to use salt and pepper to make it awesome but if you want next level awesome, add a good bit of onion powder, a small amount of cayenne pepper, and paprika.
6. Sprinkle a lot of cheese on the top of the dish, and then heavily sprinkle that with Paprika.
7. Put the oven on 350 and set the times for 20 minutes, then LOOK at it. Is it bubbling away? Is the cheese on the top browned? Then it's ready.