Unboxed Mac & Cheese

I really like Kraft Dinner. For a while, Sunday evenings were a hot bowl of KD and TV, or if I had a craving for something resembling healthy food, Annie’s. But, wanting something more wholesome than the former, and something more frugal than the latter, and driven by sheer curiosity, I decided to try replicating the boxed stuff.

Skip to the recipe if you’re in a rush.

Fun fact: Annie Withey founded Smartfood (my body is 42% Smartfood) before founding Annie’s. She starting putting the powdered cheese on her pasta, and voila, Annie’s Homegrown Mac and Cheese was born. I figured if I could get ingredients close to Smartfood’s and Annie’s, I’d be close to fulfilling my mission. I’ll address homemade Smartfood another day.

I started by snagging the closest thing to pure powdered cheese I could find – Hoosier Hill Farm’s gourmet white cheddar powder. A bit of a splurge, but worth it.

Understanding that the basic formula of pasta + cheese powder + butter + milk (either powdered or liquid) usually resulted in a pretty decent dish, I figured it couldn’t be that hard. And no, I wasn’t interested in any of those “tastes just like Kraft Dinner” recipes that go and use a roux and real cheese. If I wanted real, I’d make real.

As not much of a milk drinker, we never have milk in the house and I’ve always used pasta water instead of milk for my KD. I figured I’d try it here. The results?

I officially declare this was better than KD or Annie’s – not in the “it tastes realer” sense, but in the “I was able to add more powdered cheese” sense.

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Unboxed Mac and Cheese

Makes enough for two people, this ain’t diet food.

2 cups small pasta shapes, or about 250 grams
1/2 – 3/4 cup powdered cheese
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup pasta water

Cook the pasta in a relatively small amount of lightly salted water. When it’s done – and if you need more instruction on cooking times, I’m not willing to help you here, just test it – strain over a measuring cup to catch the starchy water.

Put the cheese powder, butter, and 1/4 cup pasta water in the pot and whisk over low heat until smooth.

Add in the pasta and slowly pour in the remaining 1/4 cup of pasta water as needed to make a creamy sauce. Crank the heat a bit and keep stirring if the sauce is too thin.

If you’re like us, put a hefty heap of kimchi on it, along with some Francesca and whatever green herbs you have lying around so it looks good in a photo.

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