Hot Mama Surprise

My mom says I give her a hard time on my blog, and since she’s one of my biggest fans, I’ve decided it’s time to give her some love.

As a general rule, she hates to cook. And bake. More than anything, though, I think she just hates the mess that inevitably ensues. I’m fairly certain her ideal supper involves beans, wieners, a cast iron pot and a big ol’ wood stove.

There was a time when she did like to cook, right after her and my dad got married. It was before my sister and I were born, before two fussy little redheads vetoed everything she attempted to cook in favour of chicken nuggets and freezer fries. It was also before her job became consuming, and she had more time to spend on experimenting with food.

The truth is, I actually think my mom’s a pretty great cook. She makes an amazing lasagna, and no matter how hard I try, my gravy is never as good as hers. Nothing’s ever quite as good as Mom’s.

Every once in a while, though, she’d come home from work exhausted, plop down at the kitchen table and utter those three unforgivable words.

Hot. Mama. Surprise.

It’s impossible to describe Hot Mama Surprise, mainly because it changes according to whatever we have in the cupboards that given week, hence the ‘surprise.’ Ground beef, macaroni noodles and vegetable soup always seemed to be key ingredients, and crumpled soda crackers often adorn the top.

The only good thing about Hot Mama Surprise was watching my mom make it. There was such ease and comfort to the way she would haphazardly rummage through the cupboard, select the perfect can of vegetables or soup and pour it into the frying pan, somehow sure that this was going to be the batch that would make all others pale in comparison.

The stove would be a wreck; blobs of tomato sauce and cracker bits littered amongst the burners as she wielded her wooden spoon through the air, then swirling it around through the casserole with such purpose.

Then, when it was finished, she would slop it on our plates and smile.

“It’s Hot Mama Surprise,” she would say. “And I’m the hot mama.”

Last week, I got the tingle to try something new for supper, so after digging around in the depths of my kitchen, I surfaced with penne noodles and a heck of a lot of cheese. I surfed around on the internet for something I could concoct, and came across a baked cheese penne recipe that looked pretty good.

It started out okay. I made the cheese sauce, boiled the pasta, and prepped the bowl. Then I realized I had a bunch of ground beef that should be used, so I thawed it, cooked it and tossed it into the mix. I crumbled up some bread and tossed it on top to make a crust, and by the time it was cooked, I was a little bit scared.

I had just made Hot Mama Surprise. Well, not technically Hot Mama Surprise, but it was the same idea: combining a bunch of surplus ingredients into a pot, covering it in crumbs and baking it with cheese on top.

I actually liked it. Next time, I might make more sauce and thicken it up a bit, but it was a pretty cozy casserole to dig into on a cold fall evening. And I have to admit, it did feel kind of nice to carry on my mom’s tradition.


large saucepan
frying pan
medium saucepan
measuring cups
measuring spoons
wooden spoon
cheese grater
9” x 13” glass baking pan


4 cups penne
1 package ground beef, thawed
1 packet beef stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 + 2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cups bread crumbs
cheddar and parmesan cheese to top


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fill large saucepan with water and bring to boil with a pinch of salt. When boiling, add penne noodles and cook for 13 minutes or until el dente. While pasta is cooking, brown beef in frying pan on medium heat. In a mug, add three tablespoons of water to two tablespoons of flour and mix to form a paste. Stir in beef stock and add to cooked ground beef.

Melt butter on low heat in medium saucepan. Bring heat to medium-low and gradually add six tablespoons of flour, whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps. Warm up the milk in a microwave, then slowly whisk into butter mixture. Add both cheeses, melt, and sprinkle in salt and pepper.

Drain pasta in colander. Butter the baking pan and add pasta. Pour in cheese sauce in and stir. Add ground beef and combine. Top with bread crumbs and shredded parmesan and cheddar cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.



Macaroni and Cheese (Minus the Box)

My mom never really enjoyed cooking. Her work was exhausting and would often keep her late, so by the time she got home the last thing she envisioned herself doing was spending an hour making supper. But she did it anyway, for our sake. She often made casseroles; simple things that would feed her family and leave enough leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Her favourite dish to make was a bizarre amalgamation of canned vegetable soup, macaroni and soda crackers. She called it ‘Hot Mama Surprise,’ to which she would add “And I’m the hot mama.”

A more popular dish was her homemade macaroni and cheese. Rich with cheese and just the right amount of gooeyness, this meal is the perfect solution to the Monday blues. I’ve altered her original recipe to include chunks of mozzarella cheese: when they melt, it’s pure heaven. I also like to break apart half a heel of bread to make bread crumbs for the crust.


two quart casserole dish
large saucepan
medium saucepan
wooden spoon
measuring cups
measuring spoons


4 cups elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup mozzarella cheese, diced
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Half a heel of bread

Cook macaroni in a large saucepan according to package until al dente. Drain with colander. Rinse cooked macaroni under lukewarm running water and repeat every five minutes until ready to use, so the noodles don’t dry and form a clump. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the two quart casserole dish.

Melt butter in medium saucepan on low heat, stirring constantly. Once butter is completely melted, slowly add flour. Whisk with a fork or whisk until flour and butter form a smooth creamy mixture. Gradually add milk, whisking in between additions. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and stir until sauce thickens. Shred cheddar cheese and add to mixture, stirring until cheese melts. Add dry mustard, salt and pepper and whisk briskly until combined.

Rinse macaroni again, then combine with cheese sauce. Dice mozzarella into cubes and add to macaroni. Turn into buttered casserole dish. Top with bread crumbs, paprika, shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.