There’s just something magical about a well done, Southern-style, greasy-spoon, all night diner, type of macaroni and cheese. It’s impossibly creamy, super cheesy and is just the perfect foil for some meat and veggies. The side-dish of the Gods.
For me, that perfect mac’n’cheese always came from Luby’s. When I was a little girl, growing up in the suburbs of Houston, my family would often go out to dinner with some family friends to Luby’s. (It’s a kid-friendly, cafeteria-style restaurant, for those of you so unfortunate to never have spent time in the South.) In my memories, it was always so amazing; both the smorgasbord of tasty foods to choose from and getting to play with my friends. What more could a little kiddo want? Two things were a must for me when my parents took me to Luby’s: the macaroni and cheese because it was just so perfect and “Lello Jello” because I really loved to say it even though I was saying it wrong. My Dad was always a fan of the liver and onions that they served there, but that was way beyond my immature palate. In all reality, Luby’s is probably a pretty average restaurant, but it will always have a special place in my heart and in my childhood.
Because I now live in California, when I saw a copy-cat recipe online for Luby’s Mac’n’Cheese it started a dangerous obsession. I researched several copy-cat recipes and tested out more than one, trying to get the perfect taste and consistency; then came the adjustments to get the cooking method just right. My poor fireman has been eating a lot of mac’n’cheese in the past few weeks. On the other hand, I have a friend, who went to high school in the Austin area and who is quite the macaroni and cheese aficionado, and she was more than happy to help me taste test all my versions. Two Texans agree, this recipe is damn tasty.
Luby’s Style Mac’n’Cheese
Serves 4 as a side dish – cost approx $.70 per serving
*Note: This recipe can be doubled quite easily if you need to feed more hungry mouths*
- 1 lb elbow pasta ($.75)
- 2 Tbs butter ($.16)
- 2 Tbs margarine
- 3 Tbs powdered milk – the secret ingredient I never would have guessed!
- 3 Tbs flour
- 12 oz Velveeta or other ‘cheese product’ cut in small cubes – don’t judge ($1 on a good sale)
- 4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded ($.63)
Start by putting a pot on to boil the pasta in and preheating the oven to 350F.
When the water is boiling, salt it with some verve and toss in the pasta. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter and margarine together over medium-low heat in a large, oven-safe pot. Stir together the flour and milk powder then whisk them into the melted butter and margarine. Let cook, while whisking constantly 1-2 minutes, making something like a roux. Measure out 1 1/2 cups hot, boiling pasta water (I used a ladle and a Pyrex measuring cup and it worked quite well.) and whisk it in, still stirring constantly.
Keeping the pot over low heat, stir in the Velveeta and half of the cheddar until it’s all melted and slightly bubbly. This may take about 5 minutes. By now the pasta is probably done, so drain it and mix it into the cheese sauce. Right about now, your mouth will probably begin to water profusely. Sprinkle over the remaining cheddar cheese and pop it all into the oven for 5-10 minutes to melt the cheese on top and meld the flavors.
This is the perfect side dish to bring to a pot-luck or barbecue. Or you could just add some sauteed onions, broccoli and bacon for a quick and easy weeknight meal, like I did!