Cheap Eats: Forget Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and Make Your Own

Here at The Billfold, we love cheap and easy recipes. Here’s one from Nicholas Hassell.

I was a latchkey kid growing up. Well, maybe I wasn’t quite a latchkey kid—my dad was a freelance writer, so he worked at home, but that meant that he actually had to work, and not just supervise a couple of children all the time (me and my older brother). What I’m trying to say is: My parents weren’t irresponsible for leaving two kids unattended at home after school for hours. The point of this isn’t to complain about how I was neglected as a child. The point of this is to lament the fact that I can’t seem to enjoy much of the things I loved about being a latchkey kid (please let me pretend that I was neglected, that I suffered quietly), Kraft macaroni and cheese being chief among those long lost loves.

Before going on though, let me say this: I don’t think I’m better than you, I’m not above eating Kraft Dinner (oh hi, foreign readers!), and I always keep a couple boxes in the pantry for when I’m lazy and don’t have a meal planned. But I’ve been to college, and have seen what those yellowish-orange pasta tubes look like when you leave them in a half-eaten bowl overnight. 

There is hope though, and it comes in a dish called “Macaroni and Cheese” (just drop the brand name!), and I swear to you it’s just as easy to make, and has an almost identical ingredient list. Where Kraft tells you to use butter, you use butter, where Kraft tells you to use 2% milk, you use 2% milk, and where Kraft tells you to use their magic processed cheese powder, you use flour and real cheese. And where Kraft doesn’t tell you to add hot dogs but you add hot dogs anyway, you can add pretty much anything you like.

Just like with the blue box, you want to start by dumping some pasta, however much you want to eat, into a pot of boiling water. You’ll stir it sometimes without thinking much about it while it boils away. Then, in a saucepan large enough to hold all the cooked pasta you’re making, melt two to three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add two to three tablespoons of flour and whisk it into the butter until it’s smooth. If you take a break from whisking the butter and flour mixture it should slowly spread out and start to bubble, but DO NOT stop for too long because it will burn and you’ll say to yourself, “Crap, I have to start over, and I just wasted probably about thirty to forty cents of butter and flour, I’m so wasteful.” but you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it.

Since you didn’t burn your roux (surprise, that’s the fancy name the French gave to this butter and flour mixture) you should be ready soon to add your milk (or cream, if you’re fancy like the French, or half & half if you like to pretend you’re fancy on weekends). I like to just pour until I think I’ve poured a little less than half a cup. It’s probably best at this stage to lowball it because it’s easier to add milk later than it is to take milk out of it. Anyway, after you stir the milk into the roux it’s going to want to get really silky and smooth. This is the desired result. If yours doesn’t look silky and smooth, as mine doesn’t on occasion, what you can do, as I like to do on occasion, is let the milk reduce a little which is to say let the liquid evaporate a little and let the rest of it get all silky smooth. It works.

Now is the most fun part, though in some ways the most difficult but more on that later. Now is when you add the cheese which you have already grated. The best part about this is that you don’t have to use cheddar cheese, although the first time you do this you will use cheddar because it’s what you’re comfortable with. One time I used Asiago cheese, and I put spinach in it which was pretty amazing. Also, another time I used mozzarella cheese, and had sort of a pizza themed macaroni and cheese with sausage in it. I read somewhere that bleu cheese pairs well with honey, so since then I’ve been thinking about what a bleu cheese and honey mac and cheese would taste like, but my girlfriend is pretty down on the idea so I haven’t had the guts to try it yet, but maybe one of you will, and tell everyone about it in the comments! When I said this was the most difficult part, in some ways I was referring to the challenge of not eating all the cheese straight, instead of putting it in the mac and cheese. That’s kind of what makes it fun too though, because you just get to eat cheese!

Once the cheese is all melted and incorporated into the silky milky roux, it’s time to add the pasta which is so conveniently done cooking and has almost strained itself of all the excess water then put all your macaroni into bowls (except for the part that you put in Tupperware to take for lunch tomorrow) and just sit down and enjoy your cheese, and your ingenuity, and your transition into full-fledged adulthood.

 

Got a cheap and easy recipe to share? Let us know.

Nicholas Hassell lives in Seattle, loves cheese, and doesn’t know his cholesterol score off the top of his head. Photo: Flickr/WordRidden

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22 Comments / Post A Comment

probs (#296)

The concept of half-eaten (as opposed to all-the-way-eaten) Kraft macaroni in cheese is the best humor writing I’ve read today! But for real though, good recipe. Mac’n’cheese is something everyone can and should make.

I…I don’t really think people eat kraft mac and cheese because they love it, do they? They eat it because it is like $1. There is no way you could make this for $1. Real cheese: it’s really expensive. I love making real mac and cheese, but it’s a completely different animal. Kind of like “american cheese”. No one realllly wants to eat that, do they?

@Jake Reinhardt also, to add to the curmudgeon factor: this recipe needs measurements! Otherwise, the whole article should read: Macaroni and Cheese-it’s great when homemade: just google how to make it!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Jake Reinhardt I’m going to sit by you, wise man.

Whenever I make macaroni and cheese, it winds up costing at least $20 because, um, cheese = money. And you need at least three different kinds of good cheese to make it properly. If you’re going to half-ass it, then just buy Kraft. Or that organic stuff that comes in the brown box if you want to feel fancy.

And for god’s sakes, you have to bake macaroni and cheese, because if you don’t bake it then you don’t get to eat toasted buttered breadcrumbs, and then where are you? Crying into your bowl of inferior macaroni and cheese, that’s where.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@MuffyStJohn I make a big batch for lunches or guests for under 10 dollars every now and then. My trick is buying the cheese scraps/ends from the “try a new cheese today!” bin at Lunds for 1-2 dollars each. You don’t need a LOT of the three different kinds to make the sauce. So about 6 dollars for three kinds of cheese. All of the other ingredients are cheap or staples.

(the sample cheeses are also AMAZING because I can actually use them before they go bad. I live alone and only make food for myself so, buying full size cheese is an expensive waste)

Maladydee (#909)

@Jake Reinhardt kraft dinner at my local grocery stores is like, $2.50 per box. I think I could make this for about the same amount, if not less, provided I get my cheese on sale, which I usually do.

elizabeast (#629)

@Jake Reinhardt That and packaged ramen are all my mole people roommates eat. Oh, and tortilla chips. In a year, I’ve never ever seen them eat or buy vegetables of any kind. And once, I watched them pour Ragu onto spaghetti and then pile that onto white bread and eat it like a taco.

So now that I’ve made myself sound like a colossal snob, I think my roommates LOVE Kraft mac & cheese.

@elizabeast oh my god. Your roommates are…either the laziest people I have ever heard of, or just subhuman. Either way, they’re going to outlive us all.

elizabeast (#629)

@Jake Reinhardt Probably! They might be human cockroaches? They are definitely the laziest people I’ve ever lived with. Case in point: They are a couple and they have an Ikea bedframe that they never bothered to put together. They just arranged the pieces AROUND the mattress and left it like that.

Also, I make cold-brewed iced coffee for the whole house every week because it’s delicious, but they still go out and buy pre-sweetened & pre-creamed iced coffee in cartons. I don’t know, I just think it’s weird that they’d turn down something free and delicious.

I’m about to move out so I’m basically taking any opportunity I can to complain about these people.

Titania (#489)

If you’re a next-level pasta-loving cheapskate, here’s a tip: when you’re making pasta, you can bring the water to a boil, pour in the pasta, stir it vigorously to release the starch, let it return to a boil, then put a lid on the pot and turn off the burner and let it sit for the amount of time stated on the box. Everyone makes fun of me for doing things like this, but I have the lowest gas/electric bill of anyone I know. Here’s the explanation:
http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/05/how-to-cook-pasta-salt-water-boiling-tips-the-food-lab.html

@Titania Does it really make a difference in your bill? I feel like the months when I bake every day and the months when I never cook somehow end up with the same gas bill, give or take five dollars.

Titania (#489)

@wallsdonotfall It’s definitely a cumulative effect, and passive energy use is my admittedly weird obsession (I also have all my electrical appliances except my fridge on power strips so they’re fully off when not in use) but those habits combined with a change to a cheaper energy supplier ends up saving about $100 a year, give or take a few. It’s certainly not a lot of money, but I can think of a lot more fun things to spend #100 a year on other than leaving the burner on for a few extra minutes or the little red light on my tv overnight.

melis (#42)

That tag is RIGHT. Keep it down about the spinach and Asiago, will you?

sony_b (#225)

For the measurements dude – for seriously cheesey mac and cheese via my memory of the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook:

1 pound of pasta

5/8 stick of butter (they use the other 3/8 with breadcrumbs on top if you like)

6T flour

(also, with your flour add some dry mustard and/or cayenne – you won’t taste the mustard at all, but it will give it a warmer mouthfeel on the back end. Put mustard in your stroganoff too. Trust me.)

5 cups whole milk

1 pound shredded cheese (I like 50/50 sharp cheddar and jack)

You have to bring the roux up to a boil with all the liquid in it for at least a minute for the flour to thicken it properly.

Also, pre-shredded cheese is not as good as shredding your own – they add cellulose to it to keep it from clumping, and that can make your sauce lumpy. Shredding your own is cheaper too.

Don’t forget the part where you stick it in a baking pan, cover with bread crumbs (or crushed potato chips, or panko, or whatever!) and some paprika, and bake it to a tasty crust.

phlox (#204)

@Koko Goldstein Oh my god, crushed potato chips on mac and cheese? I have to try that, I’ve only ever done bread crumbs.

Marissa (#467)

I got over Kraft years ago and graduated to Annie’s boxed macaroni. The Arthur-shaped pasta is the best for some reason.

Jodi (#1,047)

For those of you (like me!) that have celiac or have problems with gluten, the above recipe works well with gluten-free corn pasta (I use Le Veneziane Gluten Free Corn Pasta; it’s $2.99 in the Canada for a box but Amazon has it at $3.95). And instead of the butter/flour combo, I use a bitless butter and Ricotta cheese, which gets all soft and goopy and delicious.

Just made this yesterday after realizing all I had in my kitchen was pasta, butter, cream, and leftover shredded Mexican cheese mix (from quesadillas the other week). So much better than the blue box stuff and the leftovers were still gooey the next day!

Btw, also added some vienna sausages per my latchkey kid days.

it’s true, leftover KD is the worst. It’s totally inedible.

That’s why you have to eat the entire 1000-calorie box at once.

…just me?

so what do people like to put in their KD? I find everybody’s family has a different tradition. Mine is cottage cheese! Cottage cheese?! COTTAGE CHEESE! Now I want mac and cheese.

elizabeast (#629)

I’ve sort of perfected the art of mac & cheese (in my stomach’s opinion) and I want to share some things I’ve learned:

1. Grate your own cheese. I know it sounds time consuming, but they do something to the pre-grated cheese to keep it from turning into a ball of cheese mush and THAT makes the cheese melt weird. So take the extra minute and grate your own. OR be really lazy and use the grating blade on a food processor.

2. Use a combination of cheeses and make sure one of those is a smoked cheese. Smoked cheddar is good, smoked gouda is great.

3. Pour it all into a baking dish and top with crushed Goldfish crackers, then bake until it’s golden brown. Your entire world will change.

boysplz (#56)

@elizabeast GOLDFISH CRACKERS! That is genius!

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