Mr. Tony Mac-n-Cheese

Going away to college = mac-n-cheese. The end. It’s cheap, and as gross as it may sound, it can be made without the butter or milk recommended on the box. (Speaking from experience, of course.)

My college roommates and I would make mac-n-cheese whenever someone had an extra dollar to buy a box or when someone received it inside a lovingly-mailed care package. Wa-hoo! Mac-n-cheese! Which was odd for me, because I had never really been a big cheese fan. I know, weird. I didn’t like it on pizza, sandwiches, fries, omelets or burgers. And don’t even get me started on fake cheese. Ew! But, college does funny things to one’s taste buds. I remember coming home from school once and ate broccoli. My brother thought I was crazy. “Since when do you like broccoli?”

You know how you can over-eat something and then never have a taste for it ever again? Back to that mac-n-cheese. After graduation, I had no desire to eat it again. Ever. Until I had children. Mac-n-cheese enters the picture once again. I tried eating it. I really did. But just had no taste for it. I didn’t understand why people made such a big deal about it. It’s simple and economical, I understood that much. But the excitement over a big blop of it on my plate, when I wasn’t in school anymore? No thank you, I’ll pass.

This is where Tony comes in. We met him and his amazing family in a small group through church. A bunch of us studied together, shared life together, prayed together and ate together. A lot. Every time we met, we had potluck. Who can resist a great potluck? Fill up a plate with a little of this and a smidge of that – delish!

One group meeting, Tony brought three cheese mac-n-cheese and said, as he often does about his dishes, “It’s awe-some!” He is enthusiastic about his food creations and proudly regales how his dishes are made, what special ingredients are inside and downright makes you want to try everything. Again enters mac-n-cheese. Not wanting to hurt Tony’s feelings by passing it by, I gave it a taste. OMG. Can we talk about what makes this recipe great?

Starting from the top: breadcrumbs. And not just any breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs. Those light, flaky, golden bits of deliciousness that, when mixed with butter, are irresistible! Now each bite can have a teensy bit of crunch to it. Mmm-mmm!

Next comes cheese: If you’re an upscale home-cook like Tony, you choose fancy cheese like gouda, smoked cheddar, whatever you like! Honestly, I usually make it with common cheese like sharp cheddar, colby jack and parmesan/romano. Easy peasy.

Let’s not forget butter. I know, I know. Butter is not healthy. There’s not a ton of it in this recipe, so don’t worry. If you must substitute it for a healthier option, feel free. I have no doubt it will still be amazing.

Another great thing is the cost. Look at what you’re purchasing to make this recipe. It’s all quite affordable. If you shop my favorite store, Aldi, then you can easily make enough for two batches. One for your family to polish off, and one to share.

Last but most certainly not least: love. My friend’s enthusiasm about sharing a special dish with our small group was evident. Whenever I make this for my family, it makes me happy because I know I’m making, with love, something they will enjoy. Every time. Even better, it’s now a requested dish in our home. Mr. Tony’s Mac-n-Cheese has been to many places including high school marching band tailgate parties when the kids needed to bring a ‘dish to pass’; and my son’s baseball gatherings at the end of the season. “Mom, can you make mac-n-cheese?” Absolutely. Every time. A bit of love goes into each batch. Good thing, too. Because even though the dish doesn’t last long, the love behind it sure does.

Giving credit where it is due: Recipe shared by Tony Curtis, used often by me. When you want to make a pan of your own delicious yummy-ness, click here.

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