Mac and Cheese the Old Fashioned Way

BY  |  Monday, Jan 28, 2013 1:55pm  |  COMMENTS (38)

mac and cheeseopenIn my home we can talk religion, we can talk politics, but we cannot talk about what makes one person’s baked macaroni and cheese better than the next. My Aunt Sue will go into her method step by step, claiming she has gleaned her technique from every famous soul food restaurant north of 125th St. I have yet to figure out why this creamy carb fueled all American dish can start such family feuds, but I’m always willing to sit back and enjoy the show.

Macaroni cheese to the English, maccie the cheese as my son calls it or baked macaroni hot dish as my grandmother would say, the dish first started showing up in cookbooks during the 1800s. Quick and inexpensive to make, the dish wasn’t found on fancy restaurant menus until recently.

For those of you who remember Horn and Hardart’s Automats  –and those who don’t — check out the fascinating  Lunch Hour NYC exhibit at the New York Public Library (now through February 17). My kids and I had so much fun pretending to drop nickels into the Automat slot and opening the door to get pretend food while my husband was pontificating about his boyhood days…”When it cost more than a nickle darn-it!”

mac and cheese2Baked Macaroni and Cheese from Horn and Hardart’s Automat.:
1/4 lb. elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
A dash of white pepper
A dash of red pepper
1 1/2 cups of milk
2 tbsp. light cream
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp. sugar
Cook macaroni according to the directions on the package.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. Blend flour, salt, white and red pepper in gradually. When smooth, add milk and cream, stirring constantly. Cook for a few more minutes until it thickens.

Add cheese and continue to heat until it melts  and the sauce looks smooth. Remove from heat. Add cooked macaroni to the sauce. Add the sugar to the tomatoes and add to the sauce.
Pour mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake until the surface browns.

mac and cheese1There are over 101 ways to make this dish with a 101 secret tips. My favorite method is to use campanelle pasta, adding equal amounts of shredded mozzarella cheese and shredded cheddar cheese, and then adding cream cheese and salt. Other tips are to cook the pasta in the milk or to use a bechamel sauce as your base. Others like it baked with bread crumbs on top and stewed tomatoes on the side. Some like it hot, some like it cold, but throw that crap away if it has been in the pot and it’s nine days old!

What is your secret weapon for making the best macaroni and cheese? And when you go out, what’s your favorite place to order it.

In Montclair, Mancinni’s Coal Oven Pizza has been tempting us with talk of a smoky pancetta and paprika mac n cheese. Barista Kids proclaims that Ruthie’s BBQ/Pizza makes the ultimate killer mac. Then there’s the build-your-own mac n cheese (with add-ons like bacon, bread crumbs, jalapenos or cheesesteak) at CARS Delivery. Over in Bloomfield, Orange Squirrel serves a fontina mac and cheese.


  1. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  January 28, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    A rare indulgence, for sure, but my favorite mac and cheese? It’s by whomever does the following: Cooks the macaroni al dente. Uses a good quality, unprocessed cheese (fresh cheddar from a wheel works for me. If you dare to use Velveeta or something akin to it, you are not my friend). Burns the edges a bit to give the top a crunchy texture.

  2. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  January 28, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    Mix the cheddars – make sure you use some really sharp white cheddar. I’m a purist, no bread crumbs but getting a little browning on top is a must.

  3. POSTED BY textwoman2011  |  January 28, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    A good roux to start. Good, quality cheddar–NY state is my fav. Whole milk, not skim.
    And I prefer baking with buttered bread crumbs on top.

  4. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  January 28, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

    Falling in love with all three of you.

  5. POSTED BY anne prince  |  January 28, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

    This is definitely mac and cheese season, just made a homemade one Friday night for company. My 2 little secrets are to add 2-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce and a quick squirt or two of Gulden’s Spicy mustard to the roux. And I use a mixture of cheeses but always have a large amount of sharp cheddar and always whole milk. I kind of like the buttered breadcrumbs on top, I use the Italian seasoned ones for a little exta taste. My favorite side dish to make is one my grandmother made. Take 2 cans of Del Monte original style stewed tomatoes – do not drain, pour both cans into a pot and add 1 stick of butter, simmer until butter is melted. Make a roux of wondra flour and cold water and add a little to thicken to desired consistency. My other favorite is to do the same thing but use 2 cans of harvard beets preferably the small round ones. That was usually a Friday night staple in our house in the 60’s with a variation of the stewed tomatoes vs beets.

  6. POSTED BY Christina Gillham  |  January 28, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    Extra sharp cheddar is the key to making mac-and-cheese extra good.

  7. POSTED BY almazz  |  January 28, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

    The Mac and Cheese was never my favorite. I leaned more toward the Rice Pudding and Bread Pudding.
    The NY Library has an extensive collection of H&H recipes, only some of which are available at the Lunch Hour NY exhibit.
    The Library Gift Shop also sells our Horn & Hardart Coffee and H&H mugs.

    Al Mazzone

  8. POSTED BY Conan  |  January 28, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

    As a kid, the Automat was a treat when we took the subway down to Manhattan for a show or a movie. My favorite was their custard pudding. Basically, a flan with a browned top. They made a pretty good hot dogs and beans caserole as I recall, too, but the dirty water hot dogs (Sabretts) are still my favorite.

  9. POSTED BY Conan  |  January 28, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

    I would love to get a recording of the old Jackie Gleason episode with The Poor Soul in the Automat. I remember it being funny, but I can’t recall the plot except that it kept taking his money and not giving him food.

  10. POSTED BY Gail  |  January 28, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    The cheeses must be a mix in a really good mac. A fine, sharp cheddar, a bit of gruyere and a pinch of parmesan. And crispy, buttered bread crumbs mixed with a little of the cheeses on top.

  11. POSTED BY kit schackner  |  January 28, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

    I feel the need to put a good word in for the time-honored box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. All orange and salty, it never failed (or fails) to be what it is: a perfectly satisfying, rib-sticking childhood comfort. It was one of my staples growing up with a mother who did not like to cook (along with Beef-a-roni) and became one of ours with my daughter, who had the misfortune to be brought up by two working parents. Her father did all the cooking, and when forced to bring out the instant dinner, due to exhaustion, would try to amend it with sherry and parsley to make it more palatable. My daughter and I vehemently objected: leave it be as it was intended — no green flecks, no other flavors.

    Anyone remember the early Mall at Short Hills? It was a godforsaken department store outpost in a swamp, with Hahnes, Teppers, and I think, B. Altmans. It had an automat, maybe an outpost of H&H. My favorite was a spongy pizza bread for $0.25.

  12. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  January 28, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

    We had an old friend and ex-pat over for dinner years ago. My wife and I were glad to host him on his business travels, and we spent a good bit of time preparing a gourmet dinner for him. Waiting to be served, he noticed a blue cardboard box of Kraft Mac and Cheese in our pantry and couldn’t help but wish out loud that he’d love to have that for dinner instead.

  13. POSTED BY Nellie  |  January 28, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    I, too, must put in a good word for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

    What drives me crazy, though, are people who refer to spaghetti as macaroni.

  14. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  January 28, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

    Have to admit that Kraft M & C was a college staple of mine. Always good in a pinch.

  15. POSTED BY abishag  |  January 28, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

    I have a recipe I got from an elderly Yankee woman maybe 35-40 years ago. She’d be way over 100 now if still alive. She added dried mustard to the roux. Gave the cheesiness a little extra bite. Fitzgerald’s 1928 makes a nice mac and cheese. On special days they add small bits of lobster.

  16. POSTED BY Gail  |  January 28, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

    Spaghetti is a type of macaroni.

  17. POSTED BY mmmm  |  January 28, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

    We had Kraft Mac and Cheese growing up and while I recognize how unhealthy is is, I never lost my taste for it.

  18. POSTED BY nazlo  |  January 29, 2013 @ 12:26 am

    Tomatoes?!? That’s a recipe for disaster, not Mac &Cheese

    I survived my college and young adult life on Kraft M&C, even tho’ my mom discreetly referred to it as “Krap Dinner”. Later she gave me recipe with a bechamel sauce and quality cheddar. I sometimes try new recipes, but always come back to dear old mom’s.

    p.s. have yet to find a worthy Mac & cheese in a restaurant, even though I always order it when it’s on the menu.

  19. POSTED BY redrum  |  January 29, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    I like to put Gruyere in mac and cheese, its so much better than cheddar.

  20. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  January 29, 2013 @ 8:51 am

    Nazlo: I’m with you. I have yet to find a restaurant that makes it the way I like. None that I’ve tried thus far have captured the art of “crunchy top.” And the macaronis are always overcooked.

  21. POSTED BY Holly Korus  |  January 29, 2013 @ 9:16 am

    I was not liking the idea of chopped stewed tomatoes until I tried it. I have to say I really liked it and so did my kids.

  22. POSTED BY textwoman2011  |  January 29, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    There are a few things that children/teens should learn how to cook (however they like it) and this is one of them. Others: meatloaf, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, tomato sauce/meatballs. Of course eggs. Once you learn these basics (and they are all comfort foods), you can branch out and cook other foods.

  23. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  January 29, 2013 @ 9:41 am
  24. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  January 29, 2013 @ 10:23 am

    Cro, I love Smac. I order from there a lot when I have lunch meetings and I’m never disappointed. Clients are always surprised by the “down home” thing done well. If you’re going to add tomatoes, you can be a bit bolder and add some ground beef with cinnamon and bechamel and make a Greek pastitsio.

  25. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  January 29, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    I’ve never tried it, JG, as I’m not all that fond of mac and cheese. But it always seems crowded and the place smells great, so I may give them a try sometime when I’m not hungry enough for the Ukranian restaurant on 2nd Avenue.
    Especially the chicken cutlet which is the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s sneaker!

  26. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  January 29, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    Cro, do you mean Veselka? They make a killer potato pancake. And scrambled eggs with kielbasa. And stuffed cabbage. Oh gosh, now I’m hungry.

  27. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  January 29, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    Thanks, Cro…will have to check that out one cold, winter day. Only in NYC would there be a restaurant devoted to Mac & Cheese!

  28. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  January 29, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    MM, try the Swiss if you go. Gruyere and bacon.

  29. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  January 29, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    Veselka is great, but there is a Ukranian restaurant right on 2nd Avenue that is associated with the Ukranian Society. You have to walk in and through the lobby to the back. Great place for some barley soup, the aforementioned cutlets and some borscht. Very reasonably priced as well.

  30. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  January 29, 2013 @ 11:23 am

    Vaselka, around corner from original Second Avenue Deli on corner of East 10th Street.

    I’ve been to both often. A difficult choice at times; pastrami . . . stuffed cabbage . . . pastrami . . . stuffed cabbage . . .

  31. POSTED BY Liz George  |  January 29, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    They opened an Elbow Room in Newark — also looks yummy

  32. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  January 29, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    Oh Liz, now you’ve gone and done it! That looks really good.

  33. POSTED BY Liz George  |  January 29, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

    I know — so hungry…

  34. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  January 29, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

    LOL, Elbow Room, as in Elbow Macaroni?

  35. POSTED BY dane  |  January 29, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    I always loved the Mac&Cheese in H&H. It was almost the only thing I ever ordered there. And I went often back in the day. A poor art student could afford it. But I remember clearly: the macaroni was painfully over-cooked. To the extent that you’d be embarrassed to serve something like that to company nowadays. That said, my friend who attends the CIA tells me that kids travel from Hyde Park on weekends to eat at S’Mac in the village. So I tried it. And yeah. Seats inside are few and hard to come by, but it is SO worth the trip. Several kinds of cheese combinations available with different ingredients as well…and cooked to order, and served in a cast iron pan. Anyone who, like me, will travel for food should find the trip worthwhile!

  36. POSTED BY dane  |  January 29, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

    And croiagusanam, thanks for reminding me about the dinning room in the Ukranian Home. I ate there often back in (omg) the Seventies. They had the best blintzes ever. Rats. Now I have a major Jones for a visit there as well.

  37. POSTED BY njjenva  |  January 30, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    I have made it a personal mission to find the best Mac&Cheese recipe and/or restaurant. Nothing has topped the recipe that call for Gruyere cheese, Sharp Cheddar, Parmesan combo that I got from a Cosmopoltan magazine years ago!

  38. POSTED BY Annette Batson  |  January 30, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    I don’t usually eat mac and cheese because of the calorie content, but if i have to eat it I love a mixture of cheeses – the more the better. Once I made a recipe from Food & Wine for a hockey team dinner. It had butter sauted chopped leeks in the bechamel + a mixture of cheeses. It was amazing – and the kids ALL gobbled it up!

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