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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

The Mac Attack

September 29, 2008

The Mac Attack

The holy grail of kid cuisine is macaroni and cheese.

When I wrote my second cookbook, Deep South Staples or How to Survive In A Southern Kitchen Without A Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup, I needed to include a macaroni and cheese recipe to complete the theme for updated home cooking. I had never eaten mac and cheese so I turned over the recipe development of that dish to my chief recipe tester and Purple Parrot Café chef, Linda Nance.

Linda created a great mac and cheese recipe for the book. I named it Linda’s Macaroni and Cheese. When testing the recipe, I ate mac and cheese for the first time. It was good, and I imagine much better than the boxed varieties on local grocery store shelves. Unfortunately, there was a problem.

Deep South Staples, before it was purchased by Hyperion, was a self-published book. All of the work on the book, the recipe testing, the photographic research, the layout and design, the recipe data entry, and proofreading was done in house. That’s where today’s story begins.

There was a slight miscue between the person who helped me do the recipe data entry and the four people (one of which was me) who proofread the manuscript, slight in scope, but monumental in the life of the finished book. In Linda’s Macaroni and Cheese recipe there was a typographical error.

The recipe calls for one 12-ounce can of evaporated milk. The data entry person accidentally entered “1 12-ounce can Condensed Milk.” Yes, that milk. The canned milk normally known as sweetened condensed milk.

Folks, I don’t need to tell you the difference between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, but trust me when I tell you that if you ever prepare macaroni and cheese using sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk, you will end up with one of the worst tasting dishes you have ever eaten.

Trust me, too, when I tell you that if someone spends a lot of time measuring, preparing, and cooking mac and cheese with sweetened milk they will not be happy. Actually they will be mad enough to call the cookbook’s author on the telephone and write him nasty emails calling him all sorts of names and wishing harm on the author, his forbearers, and all of his heirs.

This would not have been a problem had I published the recipe in the newspaper and was able to print a correction in a subsequent column. Unfortunately, there were 10,000 copies of the book printed, and within a matter of weeks, all of them were in people’s homes, or more specifically, in their kitchens. Nothing feels as “permanent” as having one’s words in a published book.

A correction was made in subsequent editions, and the problem soon went away, or so I thought.

Last spring, my wife and I hosted a dinner for one of our church groups. The adults were bringing their young children to our home, and while the grown ups were meeting over dinner in one room, the children would be having dinner and playing in another room.

Don’t get ahead of me, here.

I asked the chefs in my restaurant to prepare a few recipes for both groups. Unfortunately, the mac and cheese from Deep South Staples was one of them. Even more unfortunate, the copy of the book being used in the restaurant was an uncorrected first edition.

To compound matters, the adults had spent a lot of time giving their kids the hard-sell and getting them excited about “eating at a real chef’s house,” expectations were high, the outcome was terrifying.

In the course of my 28-year restaurant career, I have never had food thrown at me, especially one of my recipes, but if it ever were to happen that would have been the night. Halfway through dinner I walked through the breakfast room to check on the kids, they were in full culinary revolt. They looked at me with hate, disdain, and disappointment all at once.

Do you remember the food fight scene in the movie Animal House? We were that close. Only after bribing them with extra ice cream did they settle down.

Lessons learned: Never trust a typist, always load up on ice cream when children are coming over, and never— I repeat never— mess with a kid’s favorite food.

Linda’s Macaroni and Cheese

1 tsp Bacon grease (or canola oil)
1 cup Onion, minced
2 cups Half and half
1-12 oz can Evaporated milk
1 /3 cup Butter
1 /2 cup Flour
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp White pepper
12 oz Velveeta cut into large chunks
8 oz Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 1 /2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 pound Elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the bacon grease in a two-quart saucepot over low heat. Cook onion five to six minutes then add half and half and evaporated milk into saucepot. Bring to a simmer. In a separate skillet, melt butter and stir in flour to make a roux. Cook until the roux becomes light blond and add to milk mixture. Cook for six to seven minutes on low, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and fold in Velveeta, cheddar cheese, pepper and salt. Stir until cheeses are melted.

While you are preparing the sauce bring six quarts of water to a boil. Add one tablespoon salt and cook macaroni to just tender. Drain and fold macaroni into cheese mixture. Place in a two-quart baking dish and bake for 25 minutes. Yield: 5-8 portions

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