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.
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.
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.