Farmer-Brown Mac & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese as a dish has been around in one form or another for at least 500 years. I became especially aware and fond of it during the winter right after Mom’s divorce in 1946, when brother Bill and I, with Mom, lived in a basement in Clovis, NM. Judy was staying with Uncle Oz and Aunt Leta in Elida at the time. Mom worked a late shift at an all-night café for a short time, trying to scrape together a living to support us.

Money was very tight. But Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese Dinner was inexpensive, easy to prepare, very nourishing, and delicious, I thought at the time. It was something a boy of 12 could fix for dinner and enjoy doing it. Making it was my first remembered experience in the kitchen.

In memory of those hard days, I have always had a box of Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in my pantry, at least since the Great Divorce of 1969. I don’t cook it any more. It is there just as a reminder.

My version of it now is a lower G. I., lower fat, and slightly less complicated adaptation of recipes taken from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook and Alton Brown’s Good Eats on the Food Network.

I think it is great as a side dish that serves well as a light dinner or a satisfying lunch. It’s one that delights kids from 2 to 102.

  • ½ lb lower G. I. elbow macaroni
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp <butter>
  • ½ cup yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp powdered mustard
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp <salt>
  • ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cups fat free milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¾ cup egg substitute (X)
  • 1 lb low-fat sharp cheddar, shredded*
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • buttery flavored spray

In a large pot of boiling water cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Strain, drain, and put back in the pot with the oil. Fold the pasta with a spatula into the oil to coat evenly.

While the pasta is simmering, melt the <butter> in a separate pot. Add the onion and sauté until limp and just beginning to brown. Mix the flour, mustard, paprika, <salt>, and pepper together in a cup and then whisk it into the <butter>and onion. Keep stirring the mixture for a few minutes to make sure it is free of lumps. Add the milk and bay leaves and whisk until the mixture is free of lumps. Bring to a simmer and hold it for ten minutes or so until all of the floury taste disappears and the mixture is smooth. Remove the white sauce from the heat and remove the bay leaves.

While still hot, fold in ¾ of the cheese and stir it in until evenly distributed in the white sauce. Let this mixture cool a bit before proceeding.

When the cheese sauce mixture is cool enough, rapidly whisk in the X. Then fold in the macaroni, being sure the pasta is well coated. Pour all this into a greased 2-quart casserole dish.

Combine the remaining cheese and bread crumbs together and then spread this mixture evenly across the top of the casserole. Squirt the top with buttery flavored spray. You may set this dish aside at this point until ready to bake.

About an hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350°F and then bake the pasta for 30 minutes. Remove it from oven and rest it for five minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.