It's a Thanksgiving tradition, albeit one started accidentally a few years ago. Now, it has become as important as turkey and dressing and cherished as much as the dinner with family and friends.
My friend, Karen, and I cook our advance dishes together on Wednesday, chatting non-stop as we peel potatoes, mix together ingredients and raise our voices over the intrusion of the roaring mixer.
We do it not together in one of our kitchens but by phone as each takes to her own stove, puts on a telephone earpiece and sets about multi-tasking between cooking and talking. It has become so joyous to us that we plan it for two weeks in advance and for a few days leading up to it, we save our stories.
"Oh, I've got to tell you what happened to me at the grocery store," I'll say. "But I won't tell you now. Remind me to tell you when we're cooking."
Ronda Rich Aunt Ozelle's Glorious Macaroni and Cheese
1 box (8 ounces) elbow macaroni. Cooked according package.
1 can cream of mushroom soup
I cup of Duke's mayonnaise
Small jar of diced pimentos
cup of onions chopped
-1/2 stick of butter
16 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese (medium or sharp)
Salt to taste
Melt butter then saute pimentos and onions together. Mix all ingredients together and pour into a buttered casserole dish. Bake for 35 minutes on 350 degrees. Serve and enjoy the compliments.
"I told you what happened with Mary last week, didn't I?" Karen will ask. "I didn't? Oh. My. Gosh. You're not goin' to believe it. But I can't tell you now. I have to save it for Wednesday. It's a good story. Just wait until you hear it."
Now, what a teaser that is. Just as good as any television promise. I can't wait to tune in and find out what happened.
As it often goes with many wonderful things, this all began by accident. One of us one year we've now forgotten which one called the other and we both happened to be in the kitchen, just beginning advance preparations for the next day. We talked for three hours and when the conversation was over, so was the peeling, chopping and mixing.
"This has been so much fun!" Karen exclaimed. "Time just flew by and I enjoyed every minute of it. Let's promise right now, right here that we'll do it again next year."
So we did. And then we did it the next year, the next, until it became our tradition.
Usually, Karen makes her delicious coconut cake, a carrot cake that, though utterly tasty, for some reason always caves in the center. We haven't quite figured that one out, though she does live high on a beautiful North Georgia mountain so I wonder if it's an altitude challenge.
On my end, I peel four pounds of potatoes for the ranch dressing-sour-cream-butter-cream-cheese potatoes that have graced my Thanksgiving table for almost twenty years. I cook the potatoes, mix in all the ingredients then pour them into a casserole dish, ready to pop into the oven the next afternoon. At my house, Thanksgiving is a dinner meal.
While I also make a dessert, I prepare what has become my "famous" macaroni and cheese. A recipe I stole from my Aunt Ozelle, but somehow the world has made it mine. Since I absolutely insist that the secret ingredient is Duke's mayonnaise it gives it the extra kick the Duke folks called and asked for permission to use it on mayonnaise jars and in their recipe book.
"Yes," I said without hesitation because I'm not one of those cooks who don't believe in sharing a good thing. Though it does become frustrating that I can't carry it to covered dish events because there will be three or four others in the room. "But you have to give my Aunt Ozelle credit."
So, the Duke's folks listed it as "Ronda Rich Aunt Ozelle's Glorious Macaroni and Cheese." It has become so famous that it's Google-able with tens of thousands of mentions. Whether you get the recipe here or online, you must try it. As you make it, do me a favor. Call up your best friend and talk to her while you're mixing it together. I swear it makes it taste better.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.