Miss Jenny

April 26th, 2013 · 36 Comments · Pasta, Vegetarian

For as long as I can remember my mother has called me “Miss Jenny.” Not all the time and not necessarily in public, but often enough so that I don’t notice unless I really stop and think about it. As an endearing as the little nickname is, I’m convinced my mom started calling me that not to be cute, but because it was part of a bigger plan she had for me.

Right after college, Mom had a roommate named Jane. To the rest of the world, though, Jane was known as “Miss Janey” the host of Pittsburgh’s Romper Room show. She was a celebrity among preschoolers (I feel certain I might hear from a few of you on this one) as well as in the greater Western Pennsylvania region, and to my mom, who at the time had a desk job at U.S. Steel, no one was more glamorous. On top of being a TV star, Miss Janey was warm, witty, and beautiful. Full of life was the term she’d use.  ”Oh Jenny,” my mom would say. “She was just like you.” And just like that I’d imagine myself as Miss Jenny the celebrity TV host.

Moms are smart that way.

There would be more plans. My mother would go out of her way at the Grand Union to point out Geraldine Ferraro on the cover of Newsweek, and tell my sister and me whenever the occasion presented itself: “You could be the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court if you wanted to be.” (Until 1981 at which point we learned we’d have to settle for Second.) My mother made sure to steer me in the direction of some wildcard careers, too, pointing out that I’d make a great eye surgeon because “Oh Jenny, you’re so good with your fingers,” and once even making me sit down to draw a cartoon for the New Yorker because “Oh Jenny, you can draw better than any of these guys.” A real estate lawyer whose idea of fun was (still is) pouring through a densely-typed annotated contract, she didn’t quite grasp that the creative industries could sometimes be a little more complicated than that.

Her relentless career-mapping didn’t stop just because I became a grown-up. If anything, it ramped up. When I was just starting out in magazines — I mean just starting out, like bottom-of-the-barrel starting out — she sent me an article in the New York Times that profiled the newly appointed glamorous editor-in-chief of a super high-end lifestyle magazine. (Back when there were such things.) This editor just had a baby and I remember reps from Prada and Calvin Klein falling all over themselves figuring out what to send the little boy for a gift. The editor was a Big Deal and her appointment was Big News. But according to my mom, whoever hired her for the job had made a mistake by not interviewing me, the girl who was in charge of editing the programming schedule for a cable TV guide.

“You would’ve been perfect for that job, Jenny. She reminded me of you. She sounds just like you.”

And then a few weeks ago, during a cold spell in February, Mom called to tell me that she had just watched someone on the Today show making macaroni and cheese — all in one pot apparently. “Oh you would’ve loved her. She was so natural and funny. I think maybe you should try to watch it. She was sweet. Just a doll. She was just like you.”

The seed she planted that time was probably not what she had hoped for. Instead of unleashing my inner Miss Jenny, I instead found myself obsessing over the idea of a one-pot baked macaroni and cheese. My nine-year-old loves Mac & Cheese but for whatever reason I find myself avoiding a homemade batch because of all the gear involved. I started experimenting, spending more time in the kitchen that I would ever admit to Sandra Day O’Connor (or my mother). I discovered that it was a great recipe for salvaging leftover heels of cheese (almost any combo of hard cheeses worked) and though I never quite pared it down to ONE pot, I streamlined it to the point where all the prep work could be done in the time it took for the pasta to cook. Which means I have that much more time to work on my New Yorker cartoons.

Please see Dinner: The Playbook for the Macaroni & Cheese recipe.

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36 responses so far ↓

  • 1 crw // Apr 26, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Your mom sounds a lot like my mom. The mac n cheese looks amazing maybe even better than Annies!

  • 2 Juliana // Apr 26, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I just made mac & cheese last night! Similar recipe, but larger, as I made one small casserole dish to feed our family last night + a 9×13 for guests tomorrow night when my husband will have to host alone (weekend away!). The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook has you make the sauce in the same pot you used to cook the noodles (leaving the noodles in a colander), which I did last night since I was already using two pots to cook the pasta. It saves on dishes, but I feel like it always takes *so long* for the cream sauce to come to a simmer, I wish I had just pulled out a third pot and gotten it going while the pasta water was heating.

  • 3 rach // Apr 26, 2013 at 10:27 am

    That’s my Mom, exactly. Thanks so much for this post. Really enjoyed it.

  • 4 Marcy // Apr 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Pittsburgh kid and former Miss Jane fan here! It was actually on WTAE, the local ABC affiliate. Miss Jane told us to do a craft one morning and to have our moms help us. My mom was asleep so I told her that Miss Jane told me to wake her up. She wasn’t pleased.

  • 5 A Life From Scratch // Apr 26, 2013 at 10:38 am

    What a wonderful mother to constantly encourage you and realize you have such great potential! That’s so great….and look what you’ve done!

  • 6 Amanda // Apr 26, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Moms are like that, aren’t they? Encouraging to a fault sometimes – they see so much potential in their kids!

    On another note, we had Romper Room here in the Bay Area growing up with Miss Nancy. She would always say about five or six names every day as she peered through her Looking Glass and I would wait and wait to hear my name. When I did hear my name I screamed so loud my mom thought I had injured myself. It was like being selected for The Price is Right or something. ;)

  • 7 Michelle // Apr 26, 2013 at 11:28 am

    I loved your story. You are very lucky to have a mom like that – so supportive, inspiring and encouraging. I am from Chicago, and loved watching Romper Room too.

  • 8 Rebecca // Apr 26, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Your friends at BA have a great no boil noodle/almost one pot version. Perhaps I’ll try both this weekend!

    http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/quick-recipes/2013/01/no-boil-mac-and-cheese

  • 9 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag // Apr 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    delightful! it’s officially mac ‘n cheese time around here now.

  • 10 Caitlin // Apr 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    I love this. Both the story about your mom (who sounds very similar to my own in this area) and the nearly one pot mac and cheese, which I want to make tonight (how much does it serve if it’s just one pregnant lady and a husband who doesn’t like cheese? If I make a side of broccoli, the serving size will be justified, right?)

  • 11 Melissa // Apr 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    This pretty much my recipe for mac and cheese, too. But I really do just use one pot–while the pasta is draining in the colander, I make the sauce in the empty pot. To make the sauce thicken more quickly, I stick the glass measuring cup of milk in the microwave so it’s hot as soon as the roux is ready. And you don’t have to bake it…sometimes like my people like it extra saucy, straight from the stove top.

  • 12 lisa // Apr 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Aren’t moms just the best! My mom used to do the same thing. This post made me think of two things – 1) I need to say more of those super encouraging things to my daughter and 2) I need to call my mom and thank her for the unconditional support

  • 13 Bea // Apr 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks Jenny. I love mac and cheese but unfortunately I was blessed with a child who won’t eat it. I know you can relate. Sometimes I wonder if she is really the child I carried for those long 9 months… anyway, I love this recipe and post. I can’t wait to try it out.

  • 14 Andrea // Apr 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    ROMPER ROOM!!! We even got it up in Canada!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td1KAgrYUGA

    Thanks for that walk down memory lane, Jenny!

  • 15 Leslie // Apr 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I have, in fact, heard about Miss Janey and Romper Room – my parents grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s/60s. Leftover mac and cheese is my idea of a perfect lunch, too.

  • 16 Erin // Apr 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I was so excited to read your Pittsburgh reference. I grew up in Pittsburgh and my family still lives there. I miss it so :)

  • 17 Jenny // Apr 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Oh my god, Marcy — I love it. Thanks for the fact-check — fixed now.

  • 18 Ashley // Apr 26, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    I make mac and cheese pretty often and pour it into muffin cups. I bake it then pop it into the freezer. Once frozen, I pop out the cups and dump them in a ziplock for 30 second perfect portions of homemade goodness for my little lady!

  • 19 Row // Apr 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    So making a batch of this on the weekend. Thanks!

  • 20 cath // Apr 27, 2013 at 4:17 am

    I love how encouraging US moms are, and I love that you guys have so many great female role models; it’s harder here, women are so looked down on. I need to be more like your mom, thanks for sharing!!

  • 21 AnneL // Apr 27, 2013 at 7:39 am

    My family likes the America’s Test Kitchen recipe that doesn’t require making a bechamel sauce – condensed milk and eggs instead so we’re pretty close to one pan already. I normally pour it into a baking dish for more “crusty bits” but the dutch oven option is a good one!

  • 22 Alanna // Apr 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    What a sweet post. We aren’t eating grains or dairy right now (I KNOW), but I had to comment and tell you how much I enjoyed reading this.

  • 23 Diane Mann // Apr 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    You are blessed to have been raised by a Mom who encouraged your dreams and aspirations. Congrats.

  • 24 Bea // Apr 29, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Just wanted to let you know that I made this yesterday. Delicious and easy! My 10 year old 5th grader is taking the leftovers for lunch today. It is my new go -to mac & cheese recipe. Thanks so much!

  • 25 M // Apr 29, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I make close to this same recipe at least once/week. I do it all in the same pot – boil water/cook the pasta in my Le Crueset dutch oven, then drain it and make the cheese sauce & bake it right in the same dutch oven. It does take longer for the water to boil, but only a few minutes and it’s just SO satisfying to only use one pot. A little gruyere cheese with the cheddar is really fabulous in this recipe.

  • 26 Jenny C // Apr 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Very similar to my mom’s mac & cheese, which was a fixture of my childhood. Just add some Worcestershire sauce, and it’ll be even better!

  • 27 Trisha // Apr 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    America’s Test Kitchen has an actual one pot mac & cheese recipe in their “The Best 30 Minute Meals” cookbook. The macaroni is cooked in a water/evaporated milk mixture, which boils off just enough to add the cheese and a little cornstarch. Doesn’t even dirty a colander, and it takes about 15 minutes. It could easily be slid under the broiler if you like, but I grew up eating creamy mac & cheese so it’s straight to the table for us.

  • 28 Mary Moerlins // Apr 30, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Moms are the best. Mine was always certain I was cut out to be either a pediatrician or a news anchor. Go figure. I ended up working in nonprofits haha.

    I recently started making my mac n cheese in one pot. By cooking the noodles in milk, the starch from the noodles thickens up the milk to make the sauce, I just stir in cheese, s&p, a touch of butter and some garlic once the noodles are all creamy and cooked. It’s one of my back pocket tricks when everyone is whining for dinner. 20 minutes to the plate.

  • 29 Zelda // May 1, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Ha ha, your mum sounds lovely! I made macaroni cheese for the first time recently, and I honestly don’t know why I waited all these years; it’s the perfect dish when there’s no time to shop, as most of the ingredients are pantry staples. When I’m a bit more organised, I like to add a leek, and some lardons to appease the meat lovers in my household.

  • 30 Emily T // May 1, 2013 at 7:39 am

    I’m a Pittsburgh girl too – “I see Emily, and Jenny, and …!” Also watched Hatchie Malachie when we went to my grandmas in central PA.
    I make this Mac n cheese with crumbled ritz crackers on top. It is awesome. Thanks Jenny for keeping me energized and inspired!!

  • 31 Molly G // May 1, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I cooked this dish last Friday night ’cause we were hungry for carbs as always, and my husband and I loved it! It was so easy and we ate on it the whole weekend! I added cheyenne for a kick and it needed more salt than I anticipated… a good note to myself for next time. Thanks for postng!

  • 32 Juanita // May 1, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    You are going to laugh, but my husband and I both grew up (separately) on a baked mac and cheese that involved mixing 1/2 pound cooked mac, 1/2 pound shredded cheddar, and a can of tomato soup–plus a chopped onion if you’re feeling daring-in a baking dish, then baking at 400 for a half hour. One pot and de-lish.

  • 33 Patty Burns // May 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    My son who only eats stovetop mac and cheese LOVED this recipe! Coming from the baked camp of mac & cheese I had to tell you how thrilled I am to have found this recipe.

  • 34 hudsonhoneybee // May 13, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Miss Jenny, my husband made this for me for mother’s day and it was delicious (and an homage to when our son was still in utero, and all I wanted to eat was mac n’ cheese).
    By the way, my husband never cooked until discovering DALS. He feels the DALS recipes are accessible and foolproof so thank you, thank you, thank you. What else can I do to thank you besides buy your book, which I’ve already done?! Invite you over for dinner? (I live one town away from you, so I actually WOULD cook you dinner!!! I would make my husband cook your dinner to prove that DALS can make anyone a cook! Ha!)

  • 35 Darcie // May 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Just wanna be clear before I hit the market– You used fresh bread crumbs PLUS crushed potato chips and not the panko, right?

  • 36 Jessica // May 28, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Your mom sounds like my grandmother in the career department! As for the mac and cheese, we do it all in one pot in our house, and gluten free at that. I’ve got it down to such a science that my husband says I make it look as easy as the boxed stuff. Noodles (we use brown rice penne), and once they are cooked and strained, I add milk, a little cream cheese, a good handful of grated sharp cheddar, and then a dash of white pepper and garlic powder. I recently started adding a pinch of tumeric, because my little girl said it wasn’t yellow enough. I mix it all together until the cheese is melted, and that’s really it. almost the same steps as the boxed stuff, and all in one pot. :)

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