Really? Mac and Cheese again? But I’ve already had Kraft Blue Box five times this week. It’s such a pain in the ass to be a college student sometimes. I can’t tell you how tired I get of the same food. Before coming to college, my aunt would always tell me about how often she ate Mac and Cheese, to which I arrogantly thought “Ha! That won’t happen to me.” Well, it did, simply because of my lack of money. The grocery store is usually such a whimsical place where I can buy anything I want, but not when I only have $2. Since its Fred Meyer though, you can get a lot for $2. In fact, I bet you could completely transform your Mac and Cheese with just a few extra dollars. I will at least try, in the interest of making my meals better.
1. Herb and Garlic Mac and Cheese
Really simple, since herbs and garlic are very cheap. Just saute some minced garlic in a pan with olive oil for about a minute. Dump it into the finished Mac and Cheese with some chopped parsley and chives. If you’re feeling as fancy as I was, you can even throw in some red pepper flakes for a bit of spice. It’s a really easy fix, for not a lot of cash. And come on, garlic makes everything better.
2. Chipotle Mac and Cheese
Again, this one is simple. Pick up a small can of chipotles in adobo on the Mexican aisle and finely mince about two chipotles (amount will vary depending on spice tolerance). Throw them into the completed Mac and Cheese with some chopped cilantro and some slightly crushed tortilla chips. It’s really a flavorful departure from the norm.
3. Bacon and Pepper Mac and Cheese
It’s as easy as it sounds. Cut about half a package of bacon into chunks and dump it into a frying pan on medium heat. The fat will render out and cook the bacon perfectly. Cook until slightly crispy, with a little brown around the edges of the slices. Add this, plus a ton of black pepper, to the finished Mac and Cheese. Your taste buds will thank you. I actually used an entire pack of bacon when I first attempted this, but I quickly learned that this is simply too much bacon. ”Too much bacon!” you may say with horror, “There’s no such thing!” While I usually agree, I can’t help but think that when the amount of bacon in your Mac and Cheese is greater than the amount of actual Mac and Cheese, you’ve gone a bit overboard and are tempting fate to give yourself a heart attack. So trust me, don’t use an entire pack of bacon.
Note: I tried a fourth Mac and Cheese (Extra Cheesy) that ended in disaster. I couldn’t stop adding more dairy products. There ended up being a whole stick of butter, 3/4 cup of milk, five huge handfuls of shredded cheese, and a good 1/4 cup of sour cream (worst idea ever). If you really want to make it extra cheesy, just add a bit more butter and a tiny dollop of sour cream. The end result was so milky and horrid that I didn’t even bother taking a picture.
More important note: Don’t be an idiot and follow the directions for cooking times on the box. If you cook the macaroni for the full 8 minutes, it will turn to mush! Take it off once its aldente, at about 4 or 5 minutes. The pasta will continue to cook once its out of the pot. Also, salt the water before putting the pasta in. Otherwise, it will just be bland.
For Christmas, I got a gift card to Fred Meyer’s. Of course, having a very small amount of self control, I used it almost immediately upon returning to college. My idea was to cook a vegetarian chili for all my friends at college. Unfortunately about half of them are veggies, which complicates things. Usually I stand on principle and put meat in anyway, but I gave in to their demands. Mostly, I was just being lazy about Christmas presents, so I told everyone the chili was their present, and since I couldn’t be bothered to get presents for vegetarians who wouldn’t eat a meaty chili, I just decided to go veggie. It turned out alright, but it’s not something I would make again; Food Network magazines only have so much good material before they just fill space with mediocre recipes. In the process of making it though, I was able to try out a new kitchen gadget that I had never tried before: chopping mats.
They come in a 2 pack for around $3 at Fred Meyer, which is quite frankly a steal. These are large mats, maybe 14 inches in length and 10 in width, and they are made of plastic. I am used to using a plastic cutting board most of the time anyway, so this wasn’t to different. Well, I take that back. The plastic was not the usual textured plastic of cutting boards. It was completely smooth and slippery, offering less traction for my knife than I would’ve wanted. I was able to make it through some vegetables, but if there were meat in that chili, I would be screwed. I used it a few days ago to grate some cheese, but it kept sliding everywhere. But even if the bottom were held in place by a towel (which it was for the second half of my experimentation), it would not suffice to hold things in place. I kept having to readjust on it, which is not the ideal situation when one is wielding a large, sharp chef’s knife. The surface gouges just like a regular cutting board as well, so the traction does improve a little with use, but not a whole lot; it’s still slippery.
But despite it’s traction problems, it was very useful for dumping ingredients into a pot. The whole idea is that it’s flexible enough to be rolled into a taco like form (yes, just like they taught you to fold the paper in elementary school) with all of your chopped items inside and transfer them neatly to your cooking vessel. The slippery surface works well for this too, as there is not much pushing necessary, just a tilt. Clean up also proved quite easy due to the slipperiness of the board. The chipotles in adobo that were on it came right off, whereas my wooden cutting board is still stained from a little bit of brown sauce I got on it a few months ago.
I’m split on the matter of having chopping mats around. They’re really convenient for everything but cutting it seems like. Doesn’t that kindof defeat the purpose then? Yeah, but this also means that I don’t have to mess around with minutia surrounding clean up and moving items to the pot. It’s a toss up. I’m a sucker for convenience, so I think I’ll keep them around, but mostly reserve them for vegetables. Trying to deal with meat on that surface would not be fun. I recommend chopping mats if you like to have a little more convenience and are willing to sacrifice some cutting efficiency. It’s a fun little gadget.