Macaroni Pie

macaroni pie

Our family’s ultimate side dish, a baked mac & cheese casserole, insanely simple but insanely satisfying, too. My Grandmama Wylie taught the recipe to Mama when she and Daddy got married back in 1963, and Mama taught it to me when I was about eight years old. My sister, Sarah, has made refinements, and I put more cheese in than anybody else in the history of the recipe, endearing me for all time to Sarah’s daughter, my gorgeous niece, Katie. And I know all my aunts and cousins have their own versions—I would happily pile my plate with any of them. We make this at all occasions of import, especially holidays. (Once we establish who’s doing the turkey at Thanksgiving, the next order of business is the macaroni pie.) I’ve got one in the oven right now because it’s Labor Day and because this would have been Mama’s 76th birthday. We’re eating takeout chicken and birthday sheet cake and macaroni pie and missing her very, very much.

Ingredients:
1.5 pounds of macaroni, cooked al dente

1.5 pounds of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

2 eggs

1.5 cups of milk (whole is best, but 2 percent works just fine)

Half a teaspoon of salt

Half a teaspoon of black pepper

A quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper

About three tablespoons of butter, cut into eight small pats

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a big casserole dish with cooking spray.  Put in a layer of cooked macaroni. Cover with a thick layer of cheese. Put in another layer of macaroni, then another layer of cheese.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Pour it over the macaroni and cheese as evenly as possible. Scatter the dabs of butter over the top.  (I do mine like rolling two fives on a set of dice.)

Bake for 30-45 minutes until it’s cooked through and starting to brown on top. Let it stand for about five minutes to set, warding off with a wooden spoon any men or children who have smelled it from the living room and want to eat it NOW.

This also makes pretty good leftovers out of fridge – just cut off a brick and heat it in the microwave.

Insane Potato Casserole

I haven’t posted a recipe in a while, and we ate the hound out of this Halloween night, so I thought I’d share it. I adapted it from a recipe I found on Pinterest for “Crack Potatoes,” but my niece said that just does not sound appetizing, and I suppose she has a point. Whatever you call it, it’s one of those side dishes that people can’t get enough of, great for potlucks, so very not good for you, but delicious. Make sure your heart medication is up to date and eat small portions.

Ingredients:

1 30 oz. bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (I use most of a bigger bag of the cheap discount store brand, and they work just fine)

1 9 oz. bag of real bacon bits (or you could fry up nine ounces of bacon and chop it up if you’re struggling to fill your empty hours)

1  1 lb. bag of finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese (again, feel free to shred your own; in this recipe, I don’t think it’s necessary, but you do you)

2 cups of sour cream (one big container)

2 packets of ranch dressing mix (now honestly, is any recipe with two packets of ranch dressing mix going to be improved by frying fresh bacon and shredding your own cheese?)

2 generous tablespoons of mayonnaise (I refuse to be ashamed)

Spray a 9 x 12-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. In a big bowl, stir together the potatoes (still frozen; they’ll break up nicely as you stir), the bacon bits, and the cheese. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the sour cream, ranch dressing mix, and mayonnaise. Pour the dressing mixture over the other ingredients, stir them together—put your back into it; you want everything evenly distributed.

Spread the resulting glop into the casserole dish. If you’re lucky, you’ve remembered to do this the night before you want to eat, in which case you can cover it all up with foil or plastic wrap and stow it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. This gives your hash browns time to thaw and cuts down on your baking time. But if you aren’t lucky, you aren’t screwed; it’s just going to take your casserole longer to get done.

Bake uncovered in a 425-degree oven for 45-60 minutes if you started early, 75-90 minutes if you didn’t. It’s done when you have a nice, crispy brown edge all the way around and the surface looks cooked all the way across. If you’re using a clear casserole dish, you can do what I do and hold it up over your head to check and see if the bottom is lightly browned all the way across. Just don’t do it in front of your spouse; it makes mine extremely nervous.

Serves at least eight—we had seven people for Halloween and had some leftovers. This freezes well and makes great leftovers from the fridge the next day if you have any. I’ve served mine with pretty much anything I’d serve with mashed potatoes. For Halloween we had it with “mummy dogs,” hot dogs wrapped in strips of crescent roll dough and baked. And trick or treat candy. Lots and lots of trick or treat candy.

The Chocolatest Cake I Ever Baked

cake

UPDATE:  For those who asked for a picture, I made another one of these over the holiday weekend as a birthday cake for my bestie and my niece.   I also made two batches of the frosting.  I put Batch #1 between the layers, then refrigerated the cake while I made Batch #2, then frosted the outside.  Then I chilled the whole cake in the fridge for about an hour.  Scruuumptious!

Full disclosure to start:  I got this recipe from Hershey’s website, hershey.com – they call it “Hershey’s ‘Especially Dark’ Chocolate Cake,” and it’s a perfectly coherent and usable recipe.  I’ve just added my usual goofiness in the hopes that it will make the actual execution easier for any kitten who decides to give it a try – learn from my pain, darlings, learn from my pain.

The Evil Genius and I were blessed this past weekend with a visit from two of my beloved aunts from out of town, Kathy from Florida and Neina from Maryland.  Magnolia that I am, I always put a cake on the cake dish when we have overnight company, but for them, I wanted to make something really spectacular.  I think this fit the bill nicely.  I wish I had taken a picture, but it didn’t hang around long enough.  It’s so chocolate, it’s almost black, and within 24 hours, it was gone, baby, gone.  The next time I make it, which will be soon, I’ll try to restrain myself and the EG long enough to take a snapshot.

This uses a very specific product – Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa.  Ordinarily I’m all for grabbing the type or brand of ingredient you like best, but not this time.  Unless there’s another brand of super duper ridiculously dark cocoa on the market I don’t know about, this will only work in these proportions with this particular variety of Hershey’s.   You don’t have to worry about being left with a bunch of cocoa; this uses most of the can, and you’re going to start craving another one of these cakes as soon as the first one is gone anyway.

One last note:  You’re gonna want a mixer for this.  Mine is a good hand mixer, and it worked just fine.  (Trust me, prairie princess; you don’t want to stir this by hand.)

Cake ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk (I used 2%, and it worked just fine)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup of boiling water

Frosting Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)

2/3 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk (again, I used 2% and noticed no ill effects)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions for cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put water on to boil.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. (I used a spray with flour in it because I’m lazy and uncoordinated.)

With a wooden spoon, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer for two minutes.  (Having made a lot of scratch cakes, I was amazed that you could just dump everything in like you would with a cake mix, but you totally can – get your dry ingredients well incorporated with one another first, then just throw everything else in the bowl and use the mixer.)  Use your wooden spoon to stir in a cup of boiling water.  The original recipe reads that the batter will be thin; I found it a little thinner than a pound cake batter, but not really thin – again, much like a cake mix.  Pour half the batter in each pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  (With my oven, it took exactly 30 minutes.)  Cool ten minutes in pans, remove from pans to wire racks, cool completely.

Directions for frosting:

Melt butter.  Stir in cocoa – I used the mixer on its lowest speed.  Notice that it looks remarkably like clumps of damp potting soil – don’t worry; it’s supposed to.  Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency – with each addition of sugar, start on low speed so you don’t powder your kitchen cabinets, then turn it up to high speed to get the sugar incorporated.  You’ll think there’s no way in East Hell you’re going to get that much sugar mixed into that tiny little bit of milk and chocolate sludge, but trust me, you will.  Just keep beating.  You can add a few more drops of milk if you absolutely must to get the right consistency, but you’ll be happier if you don’t because the texture is just gorgeous and a dream to spread.  Beat in vanilla.  This makes about two cups of frosting, which I found to be plenty to frost a layer cake.

My sister says this cake reminds her a lot of Chocolate Lovin’ Spoon Cake at McAllister’s Deli, and that is a glowing recommendation.  (Though we agreed to really get that, we’d have to double the frosting recipe and put a really thick layer of frosting between the cake layers.)  The cake is a bit denser than the usual layer cake, not as delicate, but VERY moist, and it makes beautiful slices.  My desserts usually taste divine but look ridiculous; this looked gorgeous.  Very definitely worth the effort.

cake cut

Beef Stroganoff

I usually make beef stroganoff in the slow cooker; there’s an excellent recipe on the back of the box of Lipton’s beefy onion soup mix.  But last night I really wanted this dish, and it was already after six.  So I did some research and came up with this quicker version.  And honestly, I think I might like it better; the flavor of the sour cream is more distinct, and the sauce has more body to it.  My chuck steak was the extra thin kind used in fajitas, and it worked well, but the ordinary stuff would work just as well, I think.

Ingredients:

2 pounds of chuck steak, partially frozen

2 tablespoons of butter

about a pint of fresh button mushrooms (the smaller container from the produce section)

1 large can of diced tomatoes

1 cup of sour cream

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 envelope of beefy onion soup mix

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

salt & pepper to taste

One bag of large egg noodles, cooked  & drained by package directions

Slice the chuck steak and the mushrooms into thin, bite-sized pieces.  Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over high heat.  Saute half the steak in the melted butter until done; remove from pan.  Add the other tablespoon of butter.  Saute the rest of the steak and the mushrooms.  Return the first half of the steak to the pan; add the can of tomatoes and 1/2 can of water.  Reduce heat to medium high.  In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, flour, and soup mix.  Add to meat, mushroom & tomato mixture, stir in completely.  Add thyme; salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce heat to low; simmer while you cook your noodles.  Serve over noodles.  Makes 4 generous servings.

Katie’s Extra Cheesy Macaroni & Cheese

My niece, Katie, is an afficianada of macaroni and cheese – Ernest Hemingway didn’t know gin cocktails the way Katie knows pasta and cheddar.  This is the stupidly simple recipe that earned me the coveted “Aunt Lucy makes the BEST mac & cheese!” award for excellence.  The sauce also tastes really yumtastic on steamed broccoli. 

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups milk

12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

2 heaping tablespoons spreadable cream cheese or half of a 3 ounce block, cut in small cubes

8 ounces dry macaroni

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the macaroni per package instructions.  While it’s cooking, grate the cheese – I know, you can buy it pre-grated, and if you have to hurry back to watching the red button on the nuclear missile silo, by all means, use that; otherwise, don’t ruin your mac & cheese.  Drain your macaroni.

Melt butter in a pot big enough for your finished dish over medium high heat.  Whisk in flour until it forms a smooth yellow paste.  Add milk, whisking constantly, and keep whisking until it thickens and bubbles.  Do not panic if your paste lumps up in the beginning, just keep whisking; it will smooth out.  (Some recipes for white sauce, which is what this is at this point, say you need to heat the milk first; I haven’t found that to be true, though I suppose it would probably thicken faster.)  Whisk in cheese by handfuls, reserving about one handful, keep whisking until it melts completely.  Repeat with the cream cheese. 

Stir in macaroni until smooth.  Add the last handful of cheese, stir until melted and stringy.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6-8 side dish servings, 4-5 main course servings.