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Preserve your tribe’s culinary history with a family cookbook

What is the one food that says “home” or “family” to you? That favorite dish that will turn siblings against one another as they knock mom to the kitchen floor and step over her to fight for that last bite?

In my family there are many such dishes, usually trotted out with much anticipation for special occasions and so treasured that a holiday can be ruined if the culinary tradition is broken. No Casey’s Famous Potato Salad at the annual Easter family reunion? Kill all the bunnies!

As the holidays approach, and grandma’s old recipe box is dusted off, I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time to start preserving some of these traditions before the handwriting fades. It’s still early enough in the year to gather your family’s greatest hits and preserve them in cookbook form for this giving season, and there are a handful of online printing companies—, (my favorite)—as well as more cookbook-centric ones— and—that feature easy-to-navigate design programs and quick turnaround times.

The hard part, of course, is tracking down all the recipes. Inevitably, some are already tragically lost to time. My personal favorite, Grandma’s Cherry Pie (with cans of sour cherries and sweet pie crust rolled between sheets of wax paper), went to to the grave with her. And of course, there’s that dirty secret of most families, the fact that many of the personal classics are just bastardizations of cookbook staples, and only the chef knows the secret (for Mom’s Coffee Cake, it turns out, you have to just double the topping and leave out the nuts from the Betty Crocker recipe).

The rest are just a matter of thumbing through recipe cards and typing ’em out for posterity. The Clogger—aka the Butter Experiment, aka Double-Butter Butter Cookies—is now in the books. So is The Clogger 2—aka Cheesy Potatoes—with cheese, potatoes, butter, sour cream, cream of chicken soup and potato chips. And I’ve just put the finishing touches on the recipe my wife, Connie, and I are forever duty-bound to bring to the Christmas buffet, Cassidys’ Holiday Mac-n-Cheese. Feel free to add it to your repertoire.

Cassidys’ Holiday Mac-n-Cheese

(adapted from Favorite Comfort Food by Martha Stewart)


6 slices sourdough bread (preferably Tin Roof Chico sourdough)

Roughly two sticks of butter, unsalted, softened

5 cups whole milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar

1 1/2 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 pound cavatappi (or spiral) noodles

In a saucepan, heat milk over medium heat. Cut up bread slices into half-inch squares and put in a bowl. Melt 4 tablespoons (1/2 a stick) of butter and toss with bread chunks, set aside. Grease a 3-quart casserole dish with butter, set aside. Fill large pot with water and bring to boil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Once milk is hot, turn off heat and make the cheese sauce. In a large, high-sided skillet, melt 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until bubbly, then add flour and stir until it pastes up a bit (don’t brown)—a minute or less. Increase the heat slightly and, a little bit at a time, whisk hot milk into the roux. After each pour, whisk and let it thicken a bit. Continue pouring and whisking until milk is gone and sauce is bubbly and fairly thick. Remove from heat and stir in salt, nutmeg, pepper, 3 cups of the cheddar and 1 cup of the Pecorino Romano. Set aside.

Cook pasta until it’s super al dente. Drain pasta in colander and rinse with cold water until it’s cool. Drain completely, then stir pasta into cheese sauce.

Pour pasta/cheese mixture into the casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Spread bread chunks over that. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until bread starts to brown. Let set for 5-10 minutes before serving, then get out of the way lest you get trampled in the buffet line.