Cheap Eats: Forget Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and Make Your Own
by Nicholas Hassell
Here at The Billfold, we love cheap and easy recipes. Here’s one from Nicholas Hassell.
I was a latchkey kid growing up. Well, maybe I wasn’t quite a latchkey kid — my dad was a freelance writer, so he worked at home, but that meant that he actually had to work, and not just supervise a couple of children all the time (me and my older brother). What I’m trying to say is: My parents weren’t irresponsible for leaving two kids unattended at home after school for hours. The point of this isn’t to complain about how I was neglected as a child. The point of this is to lament the fact that I can’t seem to enjoy much of the things I loved about being a latchkey kid (please let me pretend that I was neglected, that I suffered quietly), Kraft macaroni and cheese being chief among those long lost loves.
Before going on though, let me say this: I don’t think I’m better than you, I’m not above eating Kraft Dinner (oh hi, foreign readers!), and I always keep a couple boxes in the pantry for when I’m lazy and don’t have a meal planned. But I’ve been to college, and have seen what those yellowish-orange pasta tubes look like when you leave them in a half-eaten bowl overnight.
There is hope though, and it comes in a dish called “Macaroni and Cheese” (just drop the brand name!), and I swear to you it’s just as easy to make, and has an almost identical ingredient list. Where Kraft tells you to use butter, you use butter, where Kraft tells you to use 2% milk, you use 2% milk, and where Kraft tells you to use their magic processed cheese powder, you use flour and real cheese. And where Kraft doesn’t tell you to add hot dogs but you add hot dogs anyway, you can add pretty much anything you like.
Just like with the blue box, you want to start by dumping some pasta, however much you want to eat, into a pot of boiling water. You’ll stir it sometimes without thinking much about it while it boils away. Then, in a saucepan large enough to hold all the cooked pasta you’re making, melt two to three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add two to three tablespoons of flour and whisk it into the butter until it’s smooth. If you take a break from whisking the butter and flour mixture it should slowly spread out and start to bubble, but DO NOT stop for too long because it will burn and you’ll say to yourself, “Crap, I have to start over, and I just wasted probably about thirty to forty cents of butter and flour, I’m so wasteful.” but you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it.
Since you didn’t burn your roux (surprise, that’s the fancy name the French gave to this butter and flour mixture) you should be ready soon to add your milk (or cream, if you’re fancy like the French, or half & half if you like to pretend you’re fancy on weekends). I like to just pour until I think I’ve poured a little less than half a cup. It’s probably best at this stage to lowball it because it’s easier to add milk later than it is to take milk out of it. Anyway, after you stir the milk into the roux it’s going to want to get really silky and smooth. This is the desired result. If yours doesn’t look silky and smooth, as mine doesn’t on occasion, what you can do, as I like to do on occasion, is let the milk reduce a little which is to say let the liquid evaporate a little and let the rest of it get all silky smooth. It works.
Now is the most fun part, though in some ways the most difficult but more on that later. Now is when you add the cheese which you have already grated. The best part about this is that you don’t have to use cheddar cheese, although the first time you do this you will use cheddar because it’s what you’re comfortable with. One time I used Asiago cheese, and I put spinach in it which was pretty amazing. Also, another time I used mozzarella cheese, and had sort of a pizza themed macaroni and cheese with sausage in it. I read somewhere that bleu cheese pairs well with honey, so since then I’ve been thinking about what a bleu cheese and honey mac and cheese would taste like, but my girlfriend is pretty down on the idea so I haven’t had the guts to try it yet, but maybe one of you will, and tell everyone about it in the comments! When I said this was the most difficult part, in some ways I was referring to the challenge of not eating all the cheese straight, instead of putting it in the mac and cheese. That’s kind of what makes it fun too though, because you just get to eat cheese!
Once the cheese is all melted and incorporated into the silky milky roux, it’s time to add the pasta which is so conveniently done cooking and has almost strained itself of all the excess water then put all your macaroni into bowls (except for the part that you put in Tupperware to take for lunch tomorrow) and just sit down and enjoy your cheese, and your ingenuity, and your transition into full-fledged adulthood.
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