James Hemings, the chef and slave of Thomas Jefferson, is credited for introducing the nation to what we call macaroni and cheese. Originally it was considered a refined, upper-crust dish. As the dish gained popularity and its ingredients became more accessible to the average person, it became more of a comfort food for the masses, rather than a dish reserved for the rich. Its roots trace back to Italy, the United Kingdom and France.
For me, its roots trace back to the '60s when commodity food was being distributed, which included processed cheese. Although I have tasted versions of this dish all over the world, with cheeses produce by artisans, it still doesn't compare to what I've tasted in the most humble of kitchens. The women of my family were well versed in turning commodity cheese into a liquid gold that produced the best macaroni and cheese. It was a cheap dish that could feed a lot of people.
This updated version puts a fun twist on this historic dish and is great for serving large groups, or for a potluck supper. It can be made days in advance and frozen for convenience. If this recipe is too large, you can freeze half of it for another meal. Now that's comfort!
For the mac and cheese:1.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.2.
Place the cooked macaroni into a large bowl.3.
In a small bowl, combine the seasoning salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Sprinkle half of this seasoning mixture and 1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar over the macaroni and toss to combine.4.
In large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, working continuously until it makes a light roux.5.
Reduce the heat to medium and continue whisking as you slowly add the milk. Once all the milk is incorporated, cook 5 to 8 minutes, or until ingredients begin to simmer.6.
Add the cream cheese and diced American cheese in batches, and stir to melt and blend. Add 1½ cups of the shredded cheddar and turn off the heat.7.
Season the cheese sauce with the remaining seasoning mixture and stir well. Add the eggs and continue to stir to combine.8.
Spread the macaroni evenly into a cast iron skillet.9.
Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles, making sure to cover them well. Fold in the chopped bacon. Top with the remaining cup of cheddar cheese.10.
Cover the skillet with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling around the edges.
For the topping:
Melt the butter in a medium bowl in the microwave oven. Using a fork, mix in the pecans, brown sugar and breadcrumbs.
Remove the foil from the baked macaroni and cheese, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top and return, uncovered, to the oven.
Bake for an additional 15 minutes, then let the dish rest 15 minutes before serving.