Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to: Make a Meal out of Annie's Mac and Cheese

The title of this post is so ridiculous I am already laughing. I had some other titles in mind. Something to the effect of:

"College Food Gone Wild"

"So What, There is Powdered Cheese Product in this Meal"

and "23 Year Olds like Boxed Mac&Cheese too!"

There is context to this. I promise. So when Hurricane Sandy was plowing her way up to the Northeast, I had a mini panic attack because Mommy and Grandpa weren't going to be here to make sure I had everything I needed in case of an emergency. It was just me, the cat, the turtle, and the boyfriend.

Have I never mentioned Angelo before? He is my Russian tortoise. I welcomed him into my family during sophomore year of college. He was our suite pet. He's hilarious. And his name is Angelo, which is also funny considering he is not a human.

Anyway, so it's the four of us. We made some spare water, took a candle inventory and made sure the two little flashlights we have had working batteries. Then I ran to the grocery store to get some non-perishable snacks. For some reason, I bought a family size box of Annie's White Cheddar Shells. I don't know what I was thinking or how I intended on cooking this in the event the power went out, but I got it.

I am currently in a pantry-clearing kick and so I decided last night that this purple box with bunnies on it had to go.

 I couldn't bring myself to just make the mac and cheese according to package directions, so I decided to dizzy it up a little bit. I had a lot of great veggies lying around as well, so what I went with was a Baked Veggie Mac and Cheese.

I have to say, this really ended up being a pretty flavorful dinner and it came together in no time at all. Better still is that you can take some of the basic principles here and apply it to a real homemade mac and cheese dish (like the buttery bread crumb topping). So next time you find yourself with a box of Mac and Cheese and no drunk person to make it for, try creating something better from it - I don't think you will be disappointed!

Here's what you need:

1 family-sized box Annie's White Cheddar Shells (or 2 regular sized boxes)
10 to 12 asparagus spears
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 shallot
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup shredded white cheddar
1/3 cup plus a splash of skim milk
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano (or parmesan)
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

Here's what you do:

Cook the pasta according to package directions, draining 1 to 2 minutes early (al dente).

While the pasta cooks, finely dice the shallot. Remove the rough ends off of the asparagus and chop into small pieces. Leave about 3 inches of the tips of the asparagus and reserve for later.

Drain the pasta and add 1 tablespoon of butter to the warm pot. Turn the heat on low and sautee the shallots, asparagus pieces, and peas until tender about 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and the packet of cheese powder (yeah, we're using this). Whisk in the extra shredded cheddar cheese, turn off the heat and add the drained pasta back to the pot. Stir well to combine.

Grease a 9-inch pie or casserole dish and add the pasta mixture.

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Mix in the breadcrumbs and pecorino until all the breadcrumbs are slightly wet from the butter. Spread on top of the pasta. Arrange the asparagus tips on top of the bread crumbs. Sprinkle with any remaining cheese!

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn the oven up to broil. Leaving the stove door slightly ajar, broil for 1 minute or until the cheese and breadcrumbs on top are lightly browned.
Allow to cool for just a minute before serving.

I think the kicker here is the breadcrumb/pecorino topping. It adds a great nuttiness and crunch to an otherwise regular mac and cheese dish. The asparagus and shallots are just a little tangy, and with the sweetness of the peas -- it really is impressive that part of this meal is right out of the box!

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