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People love macaroni and cheese. As is often the case, my evidence for this belief is the amount of shelf-space devoted to this product. Everyone makes it. Kraft, low-budget knock-offs, high-end organic varieties. There's the classic packet-o-powder version and a handful of ones that have cheese sauce in a can or pouch. But if you want to bring people mac and cheese happiness (at least people over the age of, say, six). I'm concerned that a new generation of humans is going to grow up thinking that proper mac and cheese comes only from a box and is made with margarine, skim milk, and a packet of yellow stuff that contains powdered "cheese food."

Real live baked macaroni, the kind that you make in the oven, is not difficult, expensive, or time-consuming to make. This fall I hosted a party for what ended up being about 40 people. It was a long drop-in-when-you-can party, and at some point my mother, who was in attendance, became concerned that we were going to run out of Mac and Cheese. I had made a huge pan, the size of the ones that they use in school lunch rooms, we were down to the amount of mac and cheese that a Normal Person might prepare for consumption in at home when the fear hit. I was pretty sure that (1) we wouldn't run out of mac & cheese and that (2) if we did there was plenty of other food, and even if we ran out of food, there was (3) plenty of home brewed beer in the fridge and people would probably not leave in a huff. Now, my mother is not an unreasonable woman, but I decided that in spite of the above evidence, which I thought to be compelling at the time, it seemed much easier to make another gargantuan pan of macaroni and cheese than to attempt to convince my mother that we didn't need more. I was right. It took almost no time to prepare, and there was leftover mac and cheese even before making another cubic foot of the stuff. As it turns out, though, the stuff freezes well, and many a friend a neighbor were happy to consume the excess. There were no complaints.

There are three things you need for macaroni and cheese: Macaroni, cheese, and something to hold it all together. Buy whatever kind of macaroni you want; cook it as per the directions, though you might leave it a bit firmer than normal, as it'll soften up a bit more in the oven. I think you need about half a pound for a normal-sized (say 9x13) pan. If you cook more pasta than will fit in your pan you can eat the rest with some kind of sauce, feed it to the dog or something. It's inexpensive.

For the cheese, I'd recommend good stuff. I like a sharp aged cheddar, one that doesn't have yellow dye added to it to make it orange. Cheddar cheese gets its orange color not from anything in the natural cheese-making process, but from food coloring. At some point I'll have to find out why it is that here in the south virtually all cheddar cheese is orange. Everywhere else I have lived, cheddar cheese is white. I don't know why, but before anyone jumps to conclusions, I'm sure it has nothing to do with the Tennessee Volunteers.

Aged cheeses melt better than fresh cheeses, so stuff like cheddar, Parmesan (please, no green cans), swiss and so on are all fine ideas. The more the merrier. Stuff like fresh mozzarella won't work so well. I'd recommend that you save the Velveeta for melting with Rotelle. You don't need to grate it, just cut it up into small chunks, they'll melt. How much cheese? About the same amount as you have macaroni. Remember, macaroni is pretty good with just butter on it, and cheese is good by itself. Of course people are less likely to complain about too little cheese than they are too much.

To hold it together you can go a couple ways. The simplest way is to use eggs and milk. A couple or three eggs and maybe the same amount of milk or cream. Adding some mustard (dry, French or the yellow stuff), cayenne, Worcestershire, hot sauce can't hurt.

Now, add the cheese and noodles and some pats of butter to the pan and add the milk and egg mixture. It should mostly come up to the top of the noodles. You can add some grated cheese to the top if you want. Throw it in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Pull it out and you'll have tasty goodness. Good luck selling it to the 5-year-old-crowd though.

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