Thursday, August 26, 2010

No-Fuss Macaroni & Cheese

(Apologies for missing last week--it was the week of orientation and I was frantically trying to finish up some work that should have been done over the summer. ::sigh::)

For two weeks in July I made the "No-Fuss Macaroni & Cheese," from the Crock Pot Incredibly Easy Recipes.  This was definitely one of those recipes where my roommate and I questioned why one might want to make this in the crock pot in the first place because it doesn't cook all day (only takes about 2-3 hours) and it might just be faster if you made it on the stove.

That being said, the recipe was pretty easy to put together.  It calls for elbow macaroni (uncooked), "light pasteurized processed cheese" (read: Velveeta, Cheddar cheese, salt and pepper (of course I did not add salt), and skim milk.  As I'm looking at the recipe and the image that I used here, I'm noticing that I clearly have a problem with reading comprehension.  The recipe says that the processed cheese should be cubed.  Does that look cubed to you?  Doesn't to me either.

Anyway, one of the easy things about this recipe is that it is one where you just combine everything in the crock pot in the beginning--there are no extra steps where you add something at the end and the only thing really is that it says that you should stir it after cooking for 20-30 minutes (on low).  The problem with this, however, is that makes it not as convenient for a graduate student as some of the other crock pot recipes.  First, the short cooking time makes it that you cannot just turn it on in the morning, go to classes or the library, and then come back at night to a nice dinner.  Second, the fact that you have to stir it part-way through makes it that you cannot even really leave for several hours, or turn it on and then lock yourself in your bedroom or study to do work until it's done.

Additionally, I found that I had to stir it more than one time in order to get all the pasta to cook evenly.  The first time that I made this, I stirred it only once after I let it cook for 30 minutes, and some of the pasta was still a little crunchy by the time it was finished cooking.  The second time I made it (the following week) I stirred every 30 minutes and that time it came out perfectly.  So, again, if you're going to have to hang around for three hours stirring the mac and cheese every 30 minutes, it's not one that I would recommend for the graduate student lifestyle.

Here is the crock pot once I stirred it the first time.

And here is the mac and cheese once it was done cooking.

Sorry for the blurriness of this picture, but you can see that this one almost actually looks like the picture provided in the cookbook--something that almost never happens!  The mac and cheese itself tasted pretty good, but the problem is with the servings.  The recipe says that it makes 6-8 servings, but that must be only if you're having it as a side dish because we only got 4-5 out of it when we ate it.  If I were to make this again, I'd make a double recipe.

Of course, I did make it again, mostly because I still had enough ingredients to make a second recipe.  The recipe calls for 1 cup (4 oz) of shredded mild Cheddar cheese, which I bought only for this recipe because it's not something that I use on a regular basis.  When you buy a bag of shredded cheese, they generally come in the 2-cup size, so it's perfect for making a double recipe.  Of course, this time I decided to make the mac and cheese more interesting, adding a can of Italian-style diced tomatoes and some fresh garlic.

This modified version of the mac and cheese was much more tasty, in my opinion.  The cool thing about the mac and cheese recipe is that you can be creative, adding ground beef or turkey, beans, or tomatoes to make it more interesting.  However, the mac and cheese recipe definitely counts as comfort food: I think I calculated it to be around 600-630 calories per serving.  For a boy, that might be okay.  For someone as petite as me, I can't take in that many calories in only one part of one meal!

However, it definitely fits into the "cheap food" category.  The pasta was on sale when I got it--10 for $10 of Barilla pasta--so it comes out to be less than $0.95 per serving (assuming one already has skim milk).  Even when I added the canned tomatoes ($0.73 for store brand), the final four servings were still less than $1.15 per serving.

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