Main Dish,  Other,  Pasta,  Vegetarian

“Grandma Mac” Creamy Mac ‘n Cheese

As cozy as a welcome hug, mac ‘n cheese defines comfort food. This creamy version brings comfort to both the eaters and the cooks. And you can make it in a snap with just a couple of ingredients. Forget measuring spoons or cups—the only unit is the “dollop.” And get this: you tell doneness not by time, color or temperature, but by the way it sounds.

This recipephany comes courtesy of our sister-in-law Sheila, whose mother Ruth knew how to please her grandkids. Sheila’s children, Ariel and Eli (now with kids of their own), named it Grandma Mac to distinguish a unique dish that, as Eli puts it, offers “zero challenge to the palate and a perfect mouthfeel.” I never met Ruth, but Ariel says she liked to craft and was never without a project. In this case, Ruth crafted a dish as easy as Kraft from the box—but with much more goodness.

Here Sheila shares her mom’s recipe, seasoned only with salt and nostalgia.

Grandma Mac at Sheila’s table

“More than any of my recipes, this is The One when it comes to comfort. Most mac ‘n cheese recipes call for various cheeses, maybe a roux, maybe a crunchy topping and then some baking. Not so, my mom’s! She got it down to the basics. It traditionally stars at our Yom Kippur break-fast,* and is right up there as a most-requested recipe.

  1. First, boil up your favorite elbow macaroni for the recommended cooking time. How much macaroni? Enough for your own snack (perhaps a secret, momentary need), or enough for the whole family. So maybe a box or two.
  2. After draining and while it’s still hot, drop in a huge dollop each, or more, of Philadelphia Cream Cheese and butter according to taste.
  3. Salt liberally.
  4. Stir with a soup spoon until you hear that creamy, slathering sound.
  5. Serve immediately!

Leftovers (leftovers?) are never as good as the original, which has been known to be eaten right out of the pot (oops, back to that comfort food thing), but do serve with a fresh salad (or not) to cut some of the guilt—I mean richness.


*Note that “Break-fast” isn’t breakfast, but the evening meal that breaks the Yom Kippur fast.

Thanks, Sheila! You’ve written the best instruction in any recipe: “Stir with a soup spoon until you hear that creamy, slathering sound.” And even with a healthy slathering, the nutty taste of good macaroni shines through.

As great as this recipe is, it is strangely absent from the blogosphere. Gourmet Magazine has a version (via Epicurious) that we made for big family meals, but that was before we met Grandma Mac. It calls for mascarpone, which is just cream cheese with more butterfat and an Italian name everyone mispronounces. Yes, there’s a bit of Parmesan, crumbs and sage, but if you take those away and just lean on the salt, you’ve got “Grandma-scarpone Mac.”

Lesson learned: you don’t need mascarpone in the house. Just invite Grandma Mac to your table and enjoy an easy, delicious and downright soothing dinner.

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  • Sheila

    Just reread this after a few years. I love your comments, throughout and at the end, Diane! Really made me laugh and suddenly get a desire for a piping hot bowl of the stuff (or is it just because the real thing isn’t Kosher for Passover)! In any case, thanks for the 15 minutes of fame. Next year we can talk about our “secret” recipe for Matzola, The Official Trail Mix of the Ancient Israelites!

    • Diane Brody

      Thank you, Sheila! Thank YOU for the story and recipe. And I love your recipe for Gefilte Fish Loaf…thank you. That could be for next year. And Matzola! What a hoot!
      Love to all,

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