Since it’s back to school time for you and about time to pop out a baby for me (hello 39 weeks!), I thought we would all appreciate a quick from-a-box dinner idea and how to make it better-than-you-thought-it-could-be-GOOD. Behold, boxed macaroni and cheese.
(ps. I debated on whether or not to blog about this because I mean... it's food from a box BUT, this is real life.)
Please let it be known that I am not above boxed macaroni and cheese, (I hope you're not either) but I am particularly picky about which brand or box I use AND I always gussy it up a bit. I’ve learned that with a few simple tweaks this simple dinner can be amaze - I've been making it this way for years now and I've never looked back.
Quick mac-hacks (hehe) for better boxed mac and cheese:
1. Buy the organic box. I know, I know, my loved ones give me a hard time about my slight obsession with organic stuff but it makes all the difference. Organic boxed mac and cheese is WAY better (and better for you) and only a few dollars more than other non-organic brands. Organic mac and cheese has a smaller ingredient list, non-gmo and is made with higher quality cheese and pasta. (I like the Whole Foods or Annie's Organic brand.)
2. Under cook your pasta just slightly and salt your water with a couple pinches of salt. The pasta is going to continue to cook in the heat of the cheese sauce and I find that a slightly underdone mac noodle makes for perfect mac and cheese. So don’t cook the pasta as long as the box calls for - stop cooking it just a few minutes less. Strain it and leave it in the strainer until you make your cheese sauce. Do not rinse the pasta.
3. For the sauce:
In the same pot that you cooked and set aside your pasta: melt your butter until bubbly and then whisk in the powdered cheese packet creating a roux. Then slowly whisk in just a little bit more than the amount of milk the box calls for. Whisk until creamy and combined. This will make for a wonderfully lump-free cheese sauce.
4. *My secret tip that makes people go cray*:
Add about 2 ounces of sharp organic cheddar cheese (about 2 slices of "pre-sliced sandwich" cheese) to the cheese sauce and whisk until melted. Add some more splashes of milk to the mixture as you whisk - you want it thick, but still saucy. Don’t stress about exactness. It’s mac and cheese. Add as much milk as you need to make it a thick-saucy consistency.
5. Pour the hot pasta into the sauce and fold in with a big spoon/spatula to coat each noodle.
I’m an adult aren’t I?:
6. So, I should probably eat some veg? I always cook down several huge handfuls of fresh greens with a little olive oil, garlic and lemon and add it to my mac and cheese. Arugula, spinach and baby kale are some favorites. Just heat your skillet over a medium-high heat and add your olive oil and greens. (It should look and feel like a LOT of greens - don’t worry it will all cook down.) After greens have been cooking for 2 or so minutes add your fresh garlic (I use about 1 clove of minced garlic to about 4-5 handfuls of greens). Toss, and continue to heat through for a few more minutes or until greens are wilted. Top with a fresh squeeze of lemon.
I stir the greens in with the prepared mac and cheese. It makes it more of an adult meal (or sneaky way to get your littles to eat spinach?!) and John and I love it. The greens help me feel like I’m not completely negligent in our veggie intake. I have to say my heart skips a beat when I come home from a long day to find out John's making me this for dinner.... and I have a feeling it's going to resurface quite a bit once this babe comes.
Love you friends. xo