Mac N’ Cheese from a Box or Scratch Kicked Up a Notch
Homemade Mac N’ Cheese (from beerin fused to buffalo) is always going to be our top choice, but when crunched for time or short on ingredients, the boxed stuff can actually be quite a boon to your dinner menu. That is, if you break the rules – or in other words, ditch the directions and think outside the box.
Read on to learn how to take any boxed macaroni and cheese from ho-hum to “holy smokes, who made this?!”
1. Boil it better
The package instructions generally recommend boiling the pasta in a pot of water, straining the macaroni, then dumping the cooked noodles back into the pot and stirring in milk, butter, or margarine and the cheese powder.
But a clever hack suggests a better way: Cook the macaroni in a mixture of 1 ½ cups of water and 1 1 ½ cups of milk, then sprinkle the cheese powder directly into that liquid before adding the pasta. Skip the draining step, and add more milk as the noodles cook, if needed. Once al dente, stir in an extra 1 cup of shredded cheese and voila: less powdered cheese flavor, more homemade vibes and a hint of cheesy goodness infused right into the macaroni itself.
2. Amp up the cheese
Whether you boil the pasta with the powder or not, definitely don’t skip the extra cup of cheese. We love Gouda, cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, fontina, Monterey Jack, or Gruyere to boost the creamy factor and the flavor all at once.
3. Under-cook the noodles
Most package directions suggest cooking the pasta a bit longer than we’d prefer, which results in noodles on the mushy side. So cook it 1 to 2 minutes less, depending on how al dente you prefer your noodles.
4. Dress up the dairy
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make any mac more decadent. Instead of skim, 1 percent, instead trade in for heavy cream or half-and-half.
5. Sprinkle in some spices or sauces
A little kick can go a long way. Choose your own zesty adventure by adding a pinch of cayenne pepper, dry mustard powder, garlic powder, mushroom powder, or even a dash of hot sauce.
6. Stir in some veggies
A serving of zucchini diced, a cup of halved cherry tomatoes, a scoop of chopped roasted broccoli or cauliflower or even cup of frozen peas can perk up the boxed pasta in no time flat. Stir in any of the above with the additional cheese so it can blend in and warm up to match the pasta temperature.
7. Make it a mash-up meal
Take a little ingredient inspiration from some of your other favorite dinners, such as cheese-steak sandwiches or Caprese salad by adding the following mix-ins to taste.
Southwest: Cooked, Crumbled Bacon + Roasted Corn Kernels + Diced Anaheim or Hatch Chiles + Cracked Black Pepper
Caprese: Halved Cherry Tomatoes + Fresh Basil + Balsamic Glaze
Philly cheese-steak: Chopped Sautéed Bell Pepper + Shredded or Chopped Roast Beef + Toasted Seasoned Bread Crumbs
Chicken and broccoli: Sautéed or Steamed Broccoli + Shredded Leftover or Rotisserie Chicken
Buffalo chicken: Chopped Reheated Leftover or Frozen Crispy Chicken Nuggets + Buffalo Sauce
Chili dog: Chopped Hot Dogs + Canned Chili Beans