Say Cheese

Sara Evans shares her Granny's down-home comfort food

Good cooking runs in Sara Evans' family. "My mom is a major cook," declares Sara. "She's one of those who never leaves the kitchen. Every Sunday there is a huge meal with four desserts. "And my granny is the best cook," she adds, standing in the kitchen of her Nashville home. At family gatherings, Sara reveals, she always requests her favorite dish, Granny's Corn & Mac Bake.

Pulling her grandmother's handwritten recipe from a drawer, she explains, "This is so simple, because all you have to do is put the ingredients in a baking dish, stir it up and put it in the oven."

While Sara prepares the ingredients, her 19-month-old son, Avery, plays in the next room. She cuts a cube of cheese and lays it aside for him.

"Cooking at mealtime is my favorite thing in the world," she says. "I love that time of night, six or seven. I'll start the meal, and I'll put Avery in his high chair and give him some cheese while I'm cooking. We just talk and play, and I'll have the TV on. Avery loves to sit in his high chair forever - and being in the kitchen then is my favorite time of day."

Between celebrating her No. 1 "Born To Fly," touring with Alan Jackson and preparing for her participation in the upcoming George Strait tour, Sara has hardly had time to enjoy her kitchen. She confesses that there's not much time to cook out on the road, either.

"Right now there are so many people on the bus that it's hard to cook," she admits. "We eat out and we bring a ton of food with us. But as far as real cooking, we don't. We have lots of fruit and snacks, juice and cereal. Everything you could possibly want. But I really want to get into cooking, at least breakfast or something, on the bus."

On those rare days when Sara is in Nashville, she, Avery and husband Craig Schelske share traditional family dinners. "Every night when we're home, we sit down together for a meal. We don't eat separately. That's a big priority for us. And every morning we make eating together a ritual, too."

Even so, Sara confides she's no culinary expert. "I'm not a fancy cook," she says. "I'm more basic. Avery loves lima beans, so I make them all the time. And Craig likes my green bean casserole, and fried chicken and gravy.

"Cooking and cleaning are relaxing to me," she continues. "The main thing I get from it right now is a sense of normalcy and being domestic. I'm really old-fashioned.

Craig is a great cook, but I don't want my husband to do all the cooking. The only reason Craig ever does is because he has to, like if I'm giving Avery a bath.

"We're really busy right now, so neither one of us has much time to cook. We're just trying to survive. But I enjoy cooking, especially since I have a child now. I love to nurture him."

Sara loves nurturing everyone with Granny's Corn & Mac Bake. "It's comfort food," she explains. "Today I am making a double recipe because Craig wanted me to. At least I'll have food for supper."

Then Sara gets down to revealing the recipe.

"The first thing you do is grease the baking dish," she instructs. "Then you put one can of whole grain corn and one can of creamed-style corn in it. Don't drain the whole grain corn. Then you add one cup of cubed cheese. It normally takes one cup, but I'm going to double it.

"This recipe is so easy because you throw everything together," she continues. "You put in one cup of uncooked macaroni. Then you add one stick of melted margarine, which Granny calls oleo. I'm going to melt the margarine in the microwave; I'm not even melting it on the stove, which you could. Then you just stir it up and put it in the oven."

And to the salt lovers out there, Sara warns with a smile, "Granny specifically says, 'No salt needed in this recipe, as the cheese provides enough salt.' "

Sara says she doesn't really know how long the dish needs to bake. "Granny's recipe says, 'Bake until it bubbles and sets,' " she reads from the card. After baking it at 350 degrees until it bubbles and sets, Sara takes the dish out of the oven.

Sara inhales the comforting aroma. "This," she proudly proclaims, "is going to be so good!"

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