My people love the boxed mac-n-cheese. For years I bought them the Trader Joe’s brand. This accomplished a vital boost to every new parent’s self-esteem: it allowed me to pretend that the bright orange desiccated powder that’s supposed to be cheese is actually healthier than the other brands.
That was back when we only needed two boxes, one for the gluten-free members of the family and the dollar cheaper one for the gluten-gluttons.
Now, though, with two teenagers, the servings in those boxes are positively puny. No amount of stretching (extra noodles, peas, carrots, more milk) I tried to do could fill up these growing children (and often, their friends).
I was buying four boxes for a total of $10.00 before tax and STILL adding stretchers when friends were over. That’s just ludicrous. Everyone knows that the number one reason to buy boxed mac-n-cheese is because it’s so cheap. Plus, I was making two different kinds (to have gluten-free) to keep the price down so I wan’t saving any time.
In a flurry of the kind of privileged exasperation usually reserved for things like misplacing one’s keys to the Mercedes or not getting the closest parking space at the gym, I banned the box and came up with a recipe that anyone in the family can make — without having to fire up the oven or make a roux. It is easier, more filling, and cheaper than the boxed type as well (providing your boxes are coming from Trader Joe’s or the like).
Boxless Easy Mac-n-cheesy
(This recipe is a big one. It is meant to feed my hungry teens, plus the random friend, growing ‘tweens, and parents)
2 16 oz. packages spiral or macaroni noodles (we use Trader Joe’s gluten-free here since we have a child with Celiac)
water to cover
1-3 cups milk (start with 1 cup and adjust as you go)
1 brick cream cheese (or Neufchatel)
12 oz. shredded cheese of choice (we use cheddar, a mexican blend, or Trader Joe’s Quattro Formagio)
1/2 t. garlic powder
salt to taste
1 16 oz. bag frozen peas (optional)
1 package of 5 medium sausages or 6 hotdogs, sliced (optional)
Prepare the noodles according to the directions on the bag, making sure to add some salt to water. They needn’t be al dente, though they shouldn’t be mushy. Drain and rinse. You can do all this while you are making the sauce. If you are adding peas, put peas in colander before you dump in the hot noodles. Then rinse with the noodles.
Add 1 cup milk and cream cheese to a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir a bit until cream cheese is soft enough to break up with a wooden spoon. After breaking it into a few chunks, whisk until the cream cheese is completely blended with the milk. Add garlic powder, salt, and cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until creamy. If it is too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time. All the cheese should be melted in and the sauce should be hot. Add noodles to the sauce and stir until all noodles are coated. If you are adding sausages or hotdogs, do it here.
Serve and enjoy. Remind your teenager to chew.