Finding her way through Connection with Familiar Food
Tamara is a townie. Born in Cincinnati, but daughter of former graduate students at IU, she moved at a very young age to Bloomington, and was raised in the Midwest. Growing up, she was her mom’s kitchen assistant, her house being a place that gathered a lot of people around her mom’s food. Tamara’s mother is a chef, and many of what Tam learned was through watching her mom and helping her out. However, as she mentioned, “everyone that has worked in a kitchen with a chef knows the intensity of it”. When Tam moved home to leave by herself, she stayed away from the kitchen, getting accustomed to buying food from restaurants. However, the pandemic changed that. Tamara went back to the kitchen, and there she connected with her creativity as well as her heritage. The food that most warmly connected her was in the African American tradition, reinterpreting her favorite comfort food through her mom’s recipe: Mac n’ Cheese.
Large elbow macaroni noodles
Milk (of your choice)
Block sharp cheddar cheese
Block mild cheddar cheese
Block gouda cheese (or your preferred option)
(All seasoning to taste)
Tony’s Creole Seasoning
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
In a large pot, melt your butter on low to medium heat and add a small spoonful of flour. This will be the base for your roux. Whisk the butter and flour together until it’s blended and reaches a light golden-brown color and even consistency.
Add your milk and allow for it to heat up. At this point you will add the garlic, onion, cayenne, and creole seasoning to your mixture. Feel free to add salt and pepper at this point as well but be mindful of the portioning as you will still have to add your cheese to this mixture.
In a medium size pot, add a quart of water and allow it to boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, add your pasta and allow it to cook for the instructed time until al dente. When pasta is finished cooking, strain it (keeping a small portion of pasta water) and set the pasta to the side.
My family recipe prefers freshly shredded cheese to that of pre-shredded cheese but of course choose what is most convenient and flavorful to you. At this point you will take half of the portion you have for each cheese and add it to your pot of milk. Once all of the cheese is melted, the consistency of the mixture should be thicker than that of the milk and you should feel slight resistance when stirring.
Add a dollop of sour cream to your cheesy mixture and allow it to blend.
Now you will add the pasta to a long, buttered baking pan and slowly pour in your cheese mixture layering in the leftover shredded cheese as you go.
Place the pan in the oven to bake for roughly 20 minutes, checking as you go. In the last 5 minutes of that time, turn the broiler on low and top off your pan with any leftover shredded cheese. Remove from the oven when the top of your dish is a golden-brown color and all cheese is melted.
Serve and enjoy!
Having experienced the kitchen again, she values the constant skill learning and possibility of playing with different ingredients. From someone that didn’t cook at all in her early adulthood, she is now asked by her friends in potlucks and friendsgiving to make her now signature Mac n’ Cheese. As she took her mom's recipe, Tam did a spin on it and was most pleased when after a first try her friends ate it all. This new experience in the kitchen made her reconnect with creativity, and care through food sharing.