My Family Recipe

How My 6-Year-Old Daughter Started Our New Favorite Breakfast Tradition

Some family recipes—the best ones—are passed up.

December 18, 2018
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that’s meaningful to them and their loved ones.


I grew up in a family steeped in food traditions: leg of lamb with mint sauce and coeur à la crème at Easter, my mother’s unbeatable chicken fingers and angel food cake for birthday celebrations, jam making and this simple tomato pasta to celebrate the season every summer in Maine, and our favorite dinner of noodles with tuna and peas whenever we spent a night on my dad’s boat. And there were lots and lots and lots of cookies—whether they were for our teachers at the holidays or just for stocking the cookie jar.

When it came to breakfast, sometimes my mother would make biscuits or one-eyed sandwiches, and a few times a year we had pancakes. These weren't standard-issue American pancakes, served in great pillowy stacks and drenched in maple syrup. Instead, my mother made Lund's Swedish pancakes from a box, the batter thinned down with even more milk than the recipe called for to yield lacy, mahogany rounds with a malty sweetness. We slathered them with butter and jam and rolled them into little cigars that we'd pick up with our fingers to eat.

But we never once had waffles. And while I had friends who had waffles all the time, unlike Pop Tarts or sugar cereal (remember when that was a thing people said?), their conspicuous absence from our table didn’t make me want them more. Sure, I found them visually appealing, with their perfectly symmetrical golden troughs, and I loved watching someone working the waffle iron at breakfast buffets or in the hot food line at my college dining hall. But I never felt compelled to order one, much less make them myself. Waffle-making requires dedicated gear, and it takes a lot more than pretty golden troughs for me to invest in a single-use piece of kitchen equipment.

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Top Comment:
“I came from a large family and my mon could do 4 grilled cheese sandwiches in her waffle iron so it was easier to keep up with all of us. I use(d) the waffle iron for my children's GC and they all swore the very best part was the cheese that oozed out and got crispy and golden. I was absolutely delighted on a recent visit with my son's family when the 6 year old announced her favorite lunch is the cheese sandwich her daddy makes for her in the waffle iron! PS -- bacony waffles are also a great "carrier" for left over turkey and gravy!”
— Katherine
Comment

About a year ago my 6-year-old, Clara, came home from school bursting with excitement. "Mom, I thought of a food invention and we should make it this weekend."

(Pause.)

"Macaroni and cheese waffles!"

For a few beats I considered trying to dissuade her. I was unenthused at the prospect of this particular culinary experiment, and I was sure she'd be disappointed in the results (I didn't think she'd ever even had a waffle, and she didn't really like macaroni and cheese). But before I knew what was happening or could do anything to stop her, Patient, Fun Mom answered, "That sounds like fun!"

The damage was done. A commitment had been made, and I wasn't about to squash my daughter's burgeoning creative interest in cooking. So I spent 30 minutes reading electric waffle maker reviews, ordered this one for two-day delivery, and started Googling macaroni and cheese waffles.

I was fairly confident this was not a new idea, but less so about the preferred method. Macaroni and cheese waffle enthusiasts seem to fall into two camps: those who dump macaroni and cheese straight onto the iron and waffle it as-is, and those who take the more refined approach of folding the pasta into a batter before waffling.

On Saturday morning, Clara and I first attempted the purists' approach. The macaroni clung stubbornly to the non-stick coating of the waffle iron, and once we'd pried the messy, unevenly cooked slabs from the metal, we discovered they were tough and gummy and flavorless.

Luckily, we still had half of our macaroni and cheese. For round two, we went with the batter for Kenji Lopéz-Alt's bacon, cheddar, and scallion waffles. (I trust Kenji, and his recipe won major points because it doesn't ask you to beat the egg yolks and whites separately.) I left out the bacon fat because we didn’t have any and added a little extra melted butter to make up for it. The batter came together in less than five minutes. Into the bowl went the rest of the macaroni and cheese, and Clara and I got waffling.

Our second attempt at macaroni waffles (with Kenji Lopéz-Alt's batter). Photo by Merrill Stubbs

This was more like it. The waffles were plump and toasty blonde, and they fell away from the iron with barely a tug of resistance. We ran out of macaroni two batches in, so we finished up the rest of the batter on its own, our growing stack of waffles teetering precariously on the cutting board. My husband and son joined the party, and we all gathered around the kitchen island to taste.

I cut a macaroni and cheese waffle into quarters and we each took a piece with our fingers. Little cross sections of pasta tubes lined up pleasingly along the cut side of the waffles, nestled in the savory batter, which had an airy and almost custardy consistency. The outside of the waffle was perfectly crisp. When we tasted the plain ones, we all agreed they were even better. The novelty of the macaroni and cheese waffles soon wore off and most of them were left on the board, but the plain waffles were devoured.

The next Saturday, faced with the remaining half of the quart of buttermilk I'd bought the previous weekend and with the waffle maker staring me down from the counter, I dug out Kenji’s recipe once again. This time I omitted not just the bacon fat but the cheese and scallions too, and I added a bit more butter (I figured it couldn’t hurt).

I literally couldn’t make waffles quickly enough. My family polished off at least eight among them, and I ate another two. The rest went in one of my trusty silicone storage bags and then into the fridge.

"My moms name is Merrill. She has blue eyes. She cookx waffles." Photo by Merrill's daughter, Clara

Now I make waffles most weekends—and if I don’t, I feel a little regret. We have two waffle makers and our fridge is perpetually stocked with buttermilk. You can usually find a leftover waffle or two in there, ready for a quick toast whenever the urge strikes. And whenever we have people over for a meal before 1 p.m., they get waffles.

It’s becoming a bit of a thing. Recently, I invited a friend over for brunch with her husband and children, and when I asked if her kids liked waffles, she said, “They loved them the last time we came to your house.”

My kids have never been deprived when it comes to food traditions passed down through my side of the family. They too have learned to look forward to the chicken fingers, the summer pasta, and the endless march of cookies. I even make them Lund’s Swedish pancakes every now and then. And now we have our own breakfast tradition—still relatively new but already forming deep roots—that I hope they’ll pass down to their own families.

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10 Comments

Noreen F. January 12, 2019
I have an All-Clad waffle maker that I scored at T.J. Maxx for about a third of the retail price, but it doesn't get nearly enough use. I just picked up buttermilk for another recipe this morning, so now I think we'll have waffles for breakfast tomorrow! Thanks for the inspiration.
 
amazinc January 12, 2019
If any of your staff is a homesick Texan, there's a waffle iron that makes Texas shaped waffles. I LOVE giving them as gifts!!...even to non-Texans. It also makes a decent waffle that doesn't stick.
 
Katherine January 11, 2019
Had to share this -- until I was a junior in high school, I did not know anyone did not use their waffle iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches! I came from a large family and my mon could do 4 grilled cheese sandwiches in her waffle iron so it was easier to keep up with all of us. I use(d) the waffle iron for my children's GC and they all swore the very best part was the cheese that oozed out and got crispy and golden. I was absolutely delighted on a recent visit with my son's family when the 6 year old announced her favorite lunch is the cheese sandwich her daddy makes for her in the waffle iron! PS -- bacony waffles are also a great "carrier" for left over turkey and gravy!
 
Emily January 11, 2019
Love you guys! ❤️❤️❤️
 
Amanda H. December 18, 2018
Just finished reading your wonderful piece, was feeling very excited to make waffles, and had a horrifying thought: I don't own a waffle maker! Must. Fix. Now.
 
Author Comment
Merrill S. December 21, 2018
Ha!
 
Emma L. December 18, 2018
Loved reading this, Merrill. When I was little, my mom always went along with my spur-of-the-moment cooking ideas and experiments—even though, alas, none of them were as delicious as mac and cheese waffles! I'm so grateful she encouraged my excitement, because that's what taught me that the kitchen isn't just a place where we "have to" make dinner every night—it's a place where we can have fun, too.
 
Author Comment
Merrill S. December 21, 2018
Well said, thanks Emma!
 
Eric K. December 18, 2018
We often write about recipes getting passed down, but I love the idea of recipes that get passed up. Every Christmas I cook one or two new things for my mom, and sometimes one of them sticks and she adds it to her repertoire for the new year.<br /><br />Thank you for sharing this, Merrill. Clara's drawing made me wish the English language used the letter "x" more often. It's an underused letter, in my opinion.
 
Author Comment
Merrill S. December 21, 2018
+1!