I’d be lost without mac and cheese. Back in my old Wolman days when I had nothing but a microwave, an electric burner and a dream, mac and cheese was often the only midnight snack that could ever truly satiate me.
While I’m a big Annie’s girl myself, these recipe upgrades can serve you no matter what brand you choose. They’re super simple, but they make all the difference when you want to break the monotony of dining hall food.
For each of these upgrades, prepare your boxed or microwave mac and cheese as you otherwise would. I recommend boxed mac and cheese if possible because the sauce can be prepared separately from the pasta, which will allow you to add extra ingredients and make the sauce cohesive before adding the pasta in.
Then, follow these quick steps for whichever flavor profile you’re feeling on any given day. All of these ingredients can be found at CharMar, UniMini, Streets Market or CVS.
Bacon mac and cheese. This is the mac and cheese iteration that I make most frequently even today. The saltiness of the bacon and the spiciness of the cayenne will have you forgetting you made this dish in the confines of a dorm.
You will need: bacon or a vegetarian equivalent, garlic powder and cayenne powder.
Place two to three strips of bacon on a plate and microwave for four to six minutes, or until crispy. Take out the strips from the microwave and let them cool. Tear up or cut your bacon bits into bite-size pieces.
While the bacon is cooking, shake a teaspoon each of garlic powder and cayenne powder into your pot or microwave cup. Adjust the cayenne to your spice tolerance; if you can handle the heat, sprinkle in a bit more so that the flavor really comes through. Mix the mac and cheese until the spices are incorporated.
Once you have mixed in the spices, add in the bacon strips and give your mac a good stir. Then enjoy!
Alfredo mac and cheese. While alfredo is technically different from a mac and cheese sauce, parsley and basil are unassuming but mighty flavor additions.
You will need: parsley (fresh or dried), basil (fresh or dried) and shredded mozzarella cheese.
If you opt for fresh parsley and basil, wash your herbs and pat them dry with a paper towel. Chop up two to three sprigs of parsley and four to five basil leaves into pieces a fourth of an inch to a half of an inch wide. If you have dried herbs, sprinkle about three-fourths to one teaspoon of each herb into your pot. Then add the shredded mozzarella to your sauce and stir to melt it. Make sure all of the herbs and cheese are nicely incorporated and enjoy the Italian spin!
Broccoli cheddar mac and cheese. This variation is my attempt to emulate the beauty and warmth of a broccoli cheddar soup without the hassle of waiting for a broth to come together.
You will need: one head of broccoli (either fresh or from a microwavable vegetable bag) and shredded cheddar cheese.
Cook your broccoli however you like. If you have some fresh broccoli, cut about half of the head of broccoli into bite-sized pieces and boil it in water for about five to six minutes. To determine if the broccoli is done, stick a fork into a piece. If you are able to easily stab through the broccoli, it’s ready! Follow any instructions for your microwavable bag.
While the pasta and broccoli are still hot, add the broccoli and two to three handfuls of shredded cheese into the pot of pasta. Mix together until the cheese stretches and envelops the broccoli.
I hope you try any or all of these recipes, and I hope you put your own unique spin on any of the foundations I've laid! Creativity in the dorm kitchen was a great source of community and comfort for me as an underclassman, and it made me all the more excited to get a big kitchen for myself.
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