Mac and Cheese. One of the simpliest dishes ever. It is something that pretty much everyone I have ever met loves, and also has an opinion on it. I will be honest:
With all of my culinary expereince, and all the foods I have tried since I was a child Kraft blue box Mac and Cheese dinner has been my number one go-to comfort food.
One day not to long after I had my daughter, I was feeling down and needed some comfort food, I debated for awhile-do I need the calories, is it worth it etc. and then decided YES. I was entitled to the occassional treat and made up my mind. Out came the pan, the butter, the milk-pasta boiled slightly less then the time on the box (I like my pasta firm-perhaps even a bit firmer then al dente..) Mixed in the yellow cheese powder-a little extra milk to make it just a tad looser and saucier..into the bowl it went-a quick sprinkle with black pepper and then. Nothing. I took one bite and my heart dropped. What had I done wrong-I had made it the exact same way I’ve been doing it for more years then I can remeber. And yet…something fell short. It just wasn’t what I remember or wanted. I remember thinking at that moment: “Oh My God. I think I’ve out grown Kraft. I must be OLD.”
It is funny how something as simple as a box of Kraft Dinner can impact you. I was CRUSHED. What was I going to DO without my Kraft?!?!?!? I lived in denial for sometime, then come another day I was in need of my go-to comfort food. We still had a box or two left in the cabinet (my parents house while I still lived there, and my apartment once I moved always had some Kraft on hand!) So I pulled one out-I followed my process again paying extra attention to make sure it was perfect…and yet again NOTHING. It fell short. There was no longer any denying it. I had out grown Kraft.
Since then I have lived in avoidance of the fact that my go to comfort food was gone. As dramatic as it sounds-it left a void in my life! There were periods where I ate a box of Kraft every few days-mostly on summer vacations when I was alone and that was all I really was allowed to cook when I was alone. Then one day I was flipping through a recipe page on Facebook and came across a recipe for homemade mac and cheese-something I had perviously turned my nose up at (yes I honestly PREFERRED Kraft to homemade!) and decided to give it a try. I made some adjustments (of course) and gave it a try-and it came out AWESOME. Andrew loved it. Alice loved it. And so did I.
So here it is.
The Better Than Kraft Mac and Cheese
(Bolded sections are my changes/notes!)
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup of flour
4 cups of milk
1 lb of macaroni noodles, cooked and drained
1 (9 oz) bag of fresh spinach, chopped
2-3 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups chopped cooked chicken (Once a week or so I take a pacakge of thin sliced chicken breasts marinate them over night in dressing then grill them off-we use them for sandwiches, meals etc. through the week-I had a few of them left in the fridge and I just used those-they gave awesome flavor profile.)
One Package Italian Dressing mix (optional)
2 medium yellow onions-caramelized
1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste
Cook your bacon. I reccomend doing 2/3 of it extra crunchy, and the last 3rd a bit less crunchy since it gets crisped up in the oven.
Caramelize the onions.
In large saucepan, over medium heat, melt stick of butter.
Once butter is melted, turn heat up to medium high and slowly stir in flour to make a roux.
Slowly add the milk 1 cup at a time and stir continuously.
Once the consistency is thickened up a bit and more sauce-like, slowly stir in the cheddar cheese (I ended up using all 3 cups).
Turn off heat and stir in the chicken, 2/3 of the bacon crumbles (reserving a bit for topping), dressing mix, onions and fresh chopped spinach.
Once well mixed, season with salt and pepper to taste.
After sauce is seasoned, mix in the macaroni noodles and stir until well combined.
(**The pan I used for the sauce was to small for everything, so I took a bowl and put the chicken, bacon, spinach in that-then mixed in some sauce. After that I put sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, added some pasta then the chicken-bacon-spinach mix-stirred and finsihed by added the last of the pasta and then the sauce and a fina good stir-this was a PAIN and made more dishes-I reccommend using a one big pot for the sauce so you can mix everything in there!!**)
Once mixture is combined well, add into a greased 9×13 baking dish.
Sprinkle remaining bacon crumbles on top (I added a little extra cheddar on top as well!).
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly.
It comes out of the oven beautiful cheesey and deliclious!
Hope you find this recipe as satifying and comforting as I do.