14 November 2011

Eats: shortcut mac & cheese

Please don’t hold anything against my mother when I tell you the following: one summer, as a pre-teen, I ate nothing but Kraft Easy-Mac. Yes, the kind with the microwavable noodles and powdered cheese product and the white plastic tray with the “FILL HERE” line. I distinctly remember grocery shopping with my mom and putting my week’s supply of Easy Mac in the cart – about five boxes, for lunch and dinner over seven days. I also distinctly remember being offered other things to eat and flat-out refusing them. My mother knew which battles to pick with her tenaciously strong-willed daughter, and this wasn’t one of them. Besides, it meant she could eat whatever she wanted, too.

Today, my tastes have matured (as I’m certain my mother knew they would while saying “this too shall pass” through gritted teeth), and I try to make sure Mr. P and I eat much more balanced meals. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t still appreciate a good mac & cheese – remember when I confessed to ordering a burger topped with mac & cheese? But because of my relatively healthy eating habits nowadays, I try to keep the velveeta cheese product in our diets to a minimum. Even “homemade” mac & cheese involves a ton of butter and flour and, of course, cheese. So mac & cheese makes fairly rare appearances in our home, given that I once ate it nonstop.

So I was crazypants excited to come across this mac & cheese recipe from a food blogger I’ve followed for a while. It’s homemade mac & cheese that takes the same amount of time as the boxed stuff! And without the gobs of butter! And with real cheese, no cheese product! Good gracious, it sounded like a godsend. The secret ingredient? Greek yogurt. I could totally see how the tang of the yogurt could make a creamier, lighter mac & cheese, so I had to try it.

Before I even got started, though... I hit a few roadblocks with the ingredients. First of all, Shawnda calls for a block or deli-sliced American cheese, but our Kroger didn’t have any. I would say that’s because it’s Kroger and not a more gourmet place, but... we are talking about American cheese, here. So I got the closest thing: generic Kraft singles.


I intended to make 16 oz. of pasta, just because that’s the size of the box, which meant I had to double the rest of the recipe to a whole pound of cheese (I said this was “lighter”, not healthy). Mr. P likes colby, so I got 8 oz. of that in addition to the singles. And I don’t keep Greek yogurt in the house, so I bought a single container of plain Greek yogurt, which was probably not a full measuring cup’s worth of yogurt.

(I’m pointing out all these differences in the recipe, you should know, because sometimes improvisation doesn’t work. Ahem.)

Okay! Shawnda’s instructions said to grate the block of American cheese that she procured goodness-knows-where. So I did the next closest thing with my singles while boiling the pasta and veggies.

Then I dumped it in with the pre-shredded colby (another no-no, should have grated it myself) and reconsidered the idea that this could ever be considered “lighter”. That is a ridiculous amount of cheese.

Once the pasta and veggies were done boiling, I followed the directions (for once) and reserved about a cup of pasta water before draining. Then I returned the pasta and veggies to the pot, stirred in the yogurt, and added in part of the cheese.

Annnd it clumped. See those big stringy clumps all over the noodles? I don’t know if it was too little yogurt, the improper cheese, or what. But I mostly got clumps of cheese over wet, slippery pasta, which is totally not the “creamy sauce” I’d read about. I tried in vain to add more hot water to cream-ify the sauce, but when that didn’t work, I started in dumping in seasonings, per my usual coping mechanism for dishes on the brink of failure.

Finally Mr. P, perhaps alarmed by my fervent stirring and seasoning and whispering ”stop clumping!”, suggested I throw in some sliced-up hot dogs. I mean, how could it hurt at this point?

So in the end... I did not care much for this. I’m a varied mac & cheese lover; I appreciate the homemade sort as well as the quick-and-easy out-of-the-box kind. But somehow this didn’t measure up. If there were a way to make it more time-consuming such that it would be more delicious, I’d do it, but I don’t know how without making it unhealthy.

Mr. P, however, didn’t understand why I was so disparaging. He thought it was fine. So perhaps I’ll try this again someday, maybe playing with the amount of yogurt, or making a roux-less cheese sauce separately, or searching the city for a paradoxically highbrow-and-lowbrow block of American cheese. If you give it a try and find a way to make it as fantastic as the source claims it is, let me know!


Tina said...

I was saving this to try when y'all are home sometime - http://goingjane.blogspot.com/2011/08/in-kitchen-macaroni-4-cheeses.html
It sounds a lot like Glynda C.'s potluck mac&cheez - but in asking for her recipe again, every year and never making it myself, I do know it somewhat substitutes her whole stick of butter and whole lb. of velveeta along with the milk - her recipe has finally sunk into my brain but hers is the best crockpot m&c I've ever eaten - the. best. ever. Healthy mac&cheez is quite possibly an oxymoron of the nth magnitude... unless it's eaten while walking around the dinner table???
You know what? We must've married two of the sweetest guys that will soothe a cook by saying "it's not all that bad" - it's not because they just have bad taste -? No Way. Never. ;-)