Recently, I was moseying through the grocery store, cradling the organic pink lady apples to which I had just treated myself, when my eye feel upon this long-forgotten childhood staple:
Smile? Sure, why not?? Looking at that macaroni smile, I felt so happy that the box jumped off the shelf and into my cart. With mac ‘n’ cheez selling $10 for 10 boxes, it was hard to hold back. Why would I pay $1 for 1.5 pink lady apples when I could buy a whole dinner of mac ‘n’ cheez? (And I DO mean “cheeZ”.) Cheap food in America, my dear reader. (Edited to add: Just to be clear, the last few sentences are dripping with sarcasm. DRIPPING. )
(Peter wanted me to get this box instead, but …
… nah. Even if it does have “Double the Calcium” … again, dripping. )
Once the telltale blue box was in my cart, the wheels in my head started to turn. What if I conducted a taste test of several mac and cheeses, including a homemade recipe? Yes!
Two more boxes of mac and cheese found their way into my cart. I decided that instead of preparing all the mac and cheeses at once, as Peter would (ask him about his infamous 17 vanilla extracts taste test experiment), I would prepare them over several days. First up:
Kraft mac and cheez, plain and simple. I prepared this macaroni and cheez the traditional way, with liberal amounts of butter and milk. While the finished product was creamy and somewhat satisfying, the neon orange “cheese” was off putting. I guess eating neon noodles didn’t bother me as much when I was a young ‘un. In addition, the cheez was much too salty, causing me to gulp glass after glass of water in an attempt to wash it down. Overall, I’d give Kraft mac ‘n’ cheez a 3 out of 10.
How about Amy’s brand frozen mac and cheese? Surely with a box like this, we’ve got a healthier option?
With 48% of daily saturated fat and 25% of sodium, perhaps not. At least the ingredient list is short and contains recognizable ingredients:
After microwaving, I mixed the pasta with green beans to bulk up the small portion and sprinkled it with slivered almonds for some crunch:
The Amy’s mac and cheese is heartier than the Kraft version; however, the cheese is salty and grainy in texture. I’d give this version a 5 out of 10. It’s a reasonable option for someone short on time, but perhaps we can do better:
When I bought this Annie’s mac and cheese dinner, I didn’t realize it was a gluten-free version. Some gluten-free pastas are delicious and have a texture close to regular pasta – sadly, this rice-based pasta was not one of those. I mixed this mac and cheese with steamed frozen veggies for even more bulk:
On the plus side, the cheese was smooth and creamy. This dish is lower in saturated fat (10% of daily value); but, 28% of daily sodium is still high. Each serving also contains only 8 grams of protein (the Amy’s version had 16 grams and the Kraft version had 10 grams), so I would add more protein (chicken, tofu, beans) to stay full longer. I’d give this Annie’s macaroni and cheese a 6 out of 10.
Can we improve on this version? I think it’s time to break out some homemade mac ‘n’ cheese!
Perfect 10 Mac ‘n’ Cheese
8 oz. short pasta (I used whole grain rotini)
2 Tbsp butter or tub margarine
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup skim milk
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz. sour cream (low fat if desired)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Cook pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the THIH version of a Béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, add flour, and whisk continuously for 8-10 minutes or until the sauce is light brown (if you’re low on time, cook the sauce for 2-3 minutes instead; however, the flavor of the final mac and cheese will not be as rich). Add milk slowly, whisking constantly. Cook on low for about 5 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Stir in nutmeg. Set aside.
Mix pasta, sauce, the two cheese, and sour cream in a large bowl.
Let’s take a closer look at those beautiful cheddar cheese curls:
Scoop the pasta into a 9″x13″ baking dish and sprinkle panko breadcrumbs on top. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. You can broil the dish for 1-2 minutes to finish browning the breadcrumbs (or to finish black(en)ing the breadcrumbs, as I did).
Topped with fresh-ground black pepper and served with green beans and toasted almonds:
Add some cooked chicken or sausage (like I did) for some extra protein. A small portion of this creamy and flavorful dish was enough to satisfy my macaroni and cheese craving. Enjoy your perfect 10 mac ‘n’ cheese!
Q: Do you like macaroni and cheese? How do you like the boxed versions? Have you ever made your own?
P.S. Congratulations to Whitney and her new husband, Dave! Your wedding was beautiful! Best wishes to you both, now and in the future 🙂