Retro Recipe: Susan's Macaroni, Tomato, and Cheese

When the Fall Favorites Retro Recipe Challenge came along, I was tempted by the roast chicken picture, and toyed with the idea of potpies, but really I was in the mood for baked, casserole-y, and cheesy goodness. Don’t get me wrong – I think cheesy goodness goes down admirably any time of year – but as the leaves change, winds blow ferociously, and it gets darker every evening, hearty comfort food sounds particularly comforting.

I recently had the excellent good fortune to find at our local library annual sale a near-pristine, full three volume set of The Illustrated Good Housekeeping Encyclopedic Cookbook (a total steal at three dollars!) from 1965. I thought it would be excellent for retro challenges and the sheer amusement factor. It has not disappointed me, with some truly atrocious pictures, or rather good pictures of atrocious things, and entertaining recipe categories such as The Stag Party and recipes like Banana-Ham Casserole, Cheese Sauce.
The macaroni and cheese hails from its pages, and the only snafu encountered was with the cheese itself. I had difficulty finding the ‘process Cheddar’ it required, which apparently is different from process cheese food or process cheese product. The book also notes that Cheddar is "sometimes called American or American Cheddar" - to me, there is a world of difference between Cheddar and American cheeses, but perhaps I am wrong.

There were only pre-packaged singles of American, which I could have melted, but it seemed kind of like a pain. The Velveeta, which I figured would be next best, only came in a huge 2lb block. I finally settled on reduced-fat cheddar, one because it was the right size and five bucks cheaper (retro thriftiness did me in) and two because although I am sure process Cheddar is not reduced anything, low-fat cheese was more likely to give a plasticy texture. However, 8 oz. of the cheese gave me about three loose cups shredded; one more than I should have had according to the recipe. I lived dangerously and used it all.
I was a bit surprised when I tasted it – I didn’t think the sauce would be thick enough, or that it would reach all of the noodles – but it’s good. I went back for seconds. Normally, baked tomatoes I think are kind of weird, but they reminded me of how good a grilled cheese with tomato is, and their addition in the middle definitely brings in more flavor. The sauce is just on the thin side (possibly because of the milk; I used the 2% in the fridge rather than buy whole; possibly due to the cheese) and needs a touch more pepper, but it really worked here to make a creamy coating. The whole baked thing looks messily homey and tastes just as comforting.

adapted from The Illustrated Good Housekeeping Encyclopedic Cookbook, 1965, Vol.2

2 c elbow macaroni
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
3/4 c dry breadcrumbs
4 tsp minced onion
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp salt
dash white pepper
2 c 2% milk
3 c grated reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (8 oz)
2 medium tomatoes, cut in 1/2-inch slices

Start heating oven to 400 F. Cook macaroni as package directs; drain.
Meanwhile, in double boiler melt the 1 1/2 Tbsp butter; toss with the breadcrumbs and set aside on a plate or waxed paper. In the same double boiler combine the onion, the 2 Tbsp butter, flour, mustard, salt and pepper; stir in milk; cook, stirring often, until smooth. Add 2 cups of the cheese; stir until melted.
In 1 1/2 qt casserole (mine just made it, but i did have the slightest spill-over of the sauce during baking - either use a slightly larger, or place dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips), place half of macaroni, all but 2 or 3 tomato slices, then rest of macaroni. Pour on cheese sauce; sprinkle with rest of cheese and buttered crumbs; arrange rest of tomato slices on top. Bake for 20 minutes.

tag: RRC4