Macaroni and Cheese: A Comfort Food Resurrected

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Macaroni and cheese has made the transition from kids menu to the main course as restaurants give customers a choice of different ingredients to make it their own such as chicken, steak, and chilli.

More people are preparing the dish with real cheese and toppings outside the Kraft powered package. More recipes are taking it out of the bowl and using it in other dishes. Now you can find mac and cheese inside pizza crust, jalapeno poppers and stuffed in cheeseburgers.

Although this childhood favorite is loved by so many, most people don’t know where the idea came from. According to HowStuffWorks.com, the origin of the recipe came from the Liber de Coquina, an Italian cookbook written in the 13th century. The original name for the recipe was called de lasanis, which is said to be the first mac and cheese. Unlike the boxed stuff consumers pick up from the store, the first recipe calls for grated cheese and squared sheet noodles.

Fast food chains such as KFC and Boston Market use different kinds of noodles including spiral and pinwheel and still consider it mac and cheese, but does it still qualify as mac and cheese if you use different noodles and cheeses? Melissa Merino, owner, and baker at her home business Life’s Sweet said in an email that mac and cheese simply equal life no matter what you use.

“It’s amazing. I’m not sure why it’s big all of a sudden, but it is both delicious and versatile. Maybe because somebody put bacon in it and they lost their mind, but I put green onions in mine with noodles, cheese, and cream.” Merino said.

It is a simple dish to make since there are multiple ways to make it, but some feel the more cheese the better. Executive Chef Barney Smith said that the dish can be whatever you want, and it’s not about what you use to make it, but how you make it.

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Barney Smith of AMK Kitchen

“Our mac and cheese are really popular and everyone who comes in knows about it. We use a bunch of different cheeses like gouda and asiago in our five cheese blend. What makes it popular is the comfort food factor like my mom and my grandmother made it for me and you know it is what it is,” Smith said jokingly.

His restaurant’s interpretation won them the second place prize at the Mac and Cheese Fest, a competition where cooks from all over the city come to compete to see who has the best recipe in the city.

New ideas are continuing to take this old concept to the next level. New recipes include mac and grilled cheese, hot dogs, pretzels, and more. There is even a cauliflower version where instead of noodles, it is substituted for cauliflower and potato dumplings. The craze around the dish is so big that there are plans to open a restaurant dedicated only to using mac and cheese as a main course coming to Logan Square.

Who knows what will be next to include the noodle and cheese combo, but it will be sure to bring a different flavor to something that will make anyone relive those childhood moments.

“The comfort food idea definitely plays a big part of its success and that is what I believe keeps customers ordering it,” Smith said.  

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