Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Mom's Smokey Roni - Kind of...

My friend, Cathy, is celebrating a birthday today and her dear husband, Carl, asked her friends to each send a handwritten recipe and photo of their favorite macaroni and cheese recipe. Carl's request got me thinking about a recipe that my mom used to make called Smokey Roni. It was in the regular dinner rotation. I thought it might be a fun recipe to give to Cathy.

Over the years, I've collected a number of the cookbooks that I grew up with (and that my mom still uses), so I decided to see if the recipe was included in one called, "Dinner in a Dish." Sure enough, it was listed in the index but when I turned to the recipe it read "1 box macaroni and cheese." My mother NEVER made it with boxed macaroni and cheese! 

You know, I give my mom crap for not being much of a cook but the truth is I liked her cooking growing up. She put dinner on the table every night. Sure, it was the 1970's and we ate a lot of casseroles but my mom did a lot from scratch. We always had a garden, and to this day she cans, pickles, and freezes fresh vegetables every summer. She didn't share my passion for cooking but she did a fine job of feeding the family. I laugh now about her "regular rotation" menu selections but here I am 40 years later collecting her old cookbooks and looking up nostalgic recipes. So, I was actually quite impressed to see that although she'd used the Smokey Roni recipe as a guideline, she'd gone out of her way to make the mac-n-cheese from scratch. (Way to go, Mom!) Following in my mother's footsteps, I created my own mac-n-cheese recipe homage to Smokey Roni.

Vince tasted tested the recipe with glee and absolutely loved it. A hit all the way around! Thanks Carl and Cathy for inspiring me to revisit a wonderful childhood recipe. Hope you like it as much as we did.

Smokey Roni
Serves 4

8 ounces elbow macaroni (substitute gluten free if you like)
2 tablespoons butter, plus additional for buttering casserole dish
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 tablespoon potato starch (for gluten free) or flour 
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 cups half-n-half or whole milk
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (approximately 3 cups)
10 ounces frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained well (approximately 2 cups)
6 ounces diced ham, (approximately 1 cup)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook elbow macaroni as directed on package. Aim for al dente since the pasta will cook longer in the sauce. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a 2 quart casserole pan with butter.

Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add minced onion and sweat until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in potato starch, salt, dry mustard, granulated garlic and pepper. Stir until smooth and beginning to bubble. Slowly stir in half and half. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the mixture is just about to simmer. Add the grated cheddar and stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.

Pour the drained macaroni into the casserole pan. Add the chopped broccoli and diced ham. Pour the cheese sauce over the top and mix gently until everything is nicely coated. Top with grated parmesan and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the dish is bubbling and the top has turned a light golden brown. 

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