One of the first foods you probably learned to cook yourself was good ol' fashioned Macaroni and Cheese, straight out of the box. In fact, you probably have a box or two sitting in your cupboard right now. It's easy, it's cheap, and even though I'm supposed to have more sophisticated tastes, being a grown up and all, I'll admit it, it's still pretty darn good.
But Kraft Mac is good like those gym shorts from your sophomore year are good. They're comfortable, they're easy, but you certainly wouldn't wear them if you needed to impress anybody.
Mac and Cheese doesn't have to be that way. It's a versatile dish that with just a little bit of creativity, can be turned into a party centerpiece. It can have some kick, some flair, beyond that few dabs of hot sauce you toss in your Kraft mix when you're feeling adventurous.
Put away the gym shorts, and suit up for a second. I'm going to teach you two variations on traditional Mac and Cheese that will make even you think twice about opening up another box.
Spicy Jalapeno Mac and Cheese
Here is what you're going to need, food wise:
1 pack of bacon (technically, you won't REALLY need the entire thing, but who buys half a pack of bacon? You're going to eat the whole thing, one way or another)
1/2 brick pepperjack cheese
3 jalapeno peppers
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon flour
1 Tablespoon butter
.5 lb macaroni
If you want to make Caprese Mac and Cheese, you'll need:
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon flour
3 Roma tomatoes
1 bunch basil
1 Tablespoon butter
.5 lb pasta
Half a brick of mozzarella (the kind floating in water)
In terms of cooking supplies, here is what you'll need:
You're going to need a good frying pan, measuring cup, whisk, strainer, big ol' pot, cheese grater, knife, and cutting board.
For simplicity's sake, I'm going to walk you through the Basil Mac FIRST, and then we'll go into the Pepperjack version.
Go ahead and fill the pot up with water, lightly salt it, and bring it to a boil. That's going to take a while, so while we're waiting, let's get to our prep work. You'll want to dice the tomatoes, grate your cheese, and dice up the basil. Your cheese should have a little give to it, so be sure to grip it firmly while using the grater (but not so firmly that it smushes or falls apart). In case you haven't done this before, we have pictures!
Be sure to core the tomato before you dice it. The core doesn't taste very good.
Stack the leaves on top of each other, then roll them up tightly like...uh, a cigarette. Then thinly slice using the knife.
After all that slicing and dicing, put your milk in a microwaveable container and zap it for about a minute to get it nice and hot.
Next, fully melt the butter onto a frying pan. Add the flour, then stir. Cook for about a minute, while continuing to stir. You want the flour and butter to completely mix with each other.
After the flour-butter mix has cooked for a minute, pour a little bit of the hot milk in there, whisking to mix it up. Keep doing this until it gets thick and saucy. *The milk has to be hot or you'll get some lumpy ass cheese sauce and no one will be impressed.*
Once it gets thick, add the cheese and stir until it's melted in. At this point, your pasta should be done cooking and you should strain it. DO NOT RINSE IT. Add those carb tubes to your cheese sauce and stir it around so that it's nicely coated. After letting them cook together for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and basil, then continue to stir.
DOES THAT LOOK SEXY AS HELL OR WHAT? Stir until everything is well mixed, then transfer to a bowl, and season to taste. My wife is particularly fond of crunchy salt.
NOW FOR THE JALAPENO ONE
Set the pot of water to boil. While that's working, throw about 6 slices of bacon on a frying pan, and cook them until they are very crispy. For best crispiness, drain all the bacon fat from the pan halfway through the cooking. Once the strips are cooked, set them on a paper towel to get rid of some of the grease. You don't want to add sopping wet bacon to your meal. This dinner will be enough to still stop your heart without it.
Yeah, I ate a little bit of one right after I cooked it. Anybody who can cook bacon and not immediately demolish at least half a strip is a saint.
Like the other recipe, you'll want to do your prep work early. Grate your pepperjack cheese (it should be easier than Mozzarella), and dice up your peppers, removing as many of the seeds as you can. Unless you want to prove how MANLY you are, in which case, leave the seeds. Seeds will make the dish substantially spicier. Whatever you choose, Set these ingredients to the side, then wipe down your pan to get all the bacon grease out. Put your milk in a microwaveable container and zap it until it's hot. Seriously, it needs to be freakin' hot.
Like before, melt the butter, add the flour, and mix.
Add the hot milk one spill at a time, stirring it around until it gets all saucy and thick, like below. Then add your cheese, stirring until it melts. Season it with some salt n peppa to bring out the flava.
Finally, add in the pasta that you drained and did not rinse, then stir in the bacon and the peppers. If you want to throw in a smattering of hot sauce here, be my guest. That's not really my thing.
When cooked correctly, this dish may even render you catatonic.
Note that while you can cook the pasta ahead of time, both dishes are best cooked the same day you're going to eat them. The cheese sauces will separate a little if you leave them in your fridge for too long.
Take a look at the finished versions of both dishes, then compare to Kraft Dinner. The choice is clear. Next time you're hankering for some mac and cheese, put in a little effort, and you could upgrade from gym shorts to a suit. A cheese suit. Cheesecloth? Maybe this metaphor is tired. Point is, this is delicious:
Thanks again to Matt's wife, Taylor Brown, for her technical assistance. You can follow her on twitter at @whysored