All of the following is more intuitional than measured.
Start by par-boiling enough elbow macaroni to feed however many you're cooking for. If it's raw, it's undercooked. If it's al dente, it's overcooked. The macaroni will finish boiling while baking.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees, while waiting for the macaroni to boil.
Butter a rectangular cake pan, or casserole dish of appropriate size.
Evenly spread enough warm, drained macaroni to cover the bottom of the pan/dish. It's okay if you see the butter melting now.
Spread the cheddar of your choice--shredded if available--over the bottom layer of macaroni. When you see more cheese than macaroni, start a new layer of macaroni. When you see more macaroni than cheese,
start a new layer of shredded cheese. Continue until macaroni is used up. If you've judged correctly, the top of the macaroni, or cheese as the case may be, should be about an inch under the lip of the pan. Pepper to taste on top of the macaroni. Now--you saved some cheese didn't you?--good--take the rest of the cheese and spread it over the exposed macaroni. If you want to throw a couple chunks or slices of cheese on top of that, that's okay, too.
And now--here's the secret--pour enough milk over the top of mixture to soak through to the bottom layers, and form a 1/2 inch deep pool at the bottom of the pan. That's how your mac will finish cooking. The milk will steam upward, as the cheese melts downward. It's going to smell delicious while it's cooking, but keep your taste buds in check. If you take it out too soon, you're robbing yourself of a treat. It isn't really done until the cheese on top is getting crispy, perhaps a bit brown, but not burned. At 375 degrees, it should take anywhere from 40-55 minutes. I've even tried 375 for 30 minutes, then 425 for 10. before. Good luck and don't be afraid to experiment with cheddar mixtures. I really like to throw some monterey jack into it, every now and then.
*If my sisters read this they'll probably kill me.
Steve - thanks. It's sounds great. As soon as the temperature drops below 100 degrees (it's not supposed to hit 100 at the 3000 foot elevation) I'll turn on the oven and give it a shot. I'm really looking forward to it.
PS: I remember my mother putting in canned tomatoes, too. Anyone else ever heard of that?
My mother always made it on Friday night. If any was left over, she would then add the canned tomatoes and serve it as a side dish.
I HATED the tomato version--I still do. So...before I'd turn on the Sat morning cartoons, I'd scoop out a BIG plateful for breakfast and eat it cold while I watched "Fury" (the story of a Horse and the boy who loved him). No canned tomatoes for me, thanks. However, I like to make sliced, fresh tomato sandwiches with lots of butter, salt and pepper. Just leave them out of my m&c!
I forgot to mention in the original post that the leftovers should be served cold for breakfast--better than pizza. Thanks for the reminder.