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Junk in a Box

June 4, 2009

This is embarrassing.  And that’s just for starters.  It gets worse at the end.  But I feel it’s important for me to explain a bullet point from the Fussy Manifesto.

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

No, I do not love it because “it’s the cheesiest.”  It most certainly is not.
I know I shouldn’t love it because it goes against everything I believe food should be.
But I love it still.

I love it for all of its cardboardy noodles and brilliant orange cheese sauce package goodness.

The truth is, for this type of quick comfort food from a box, nothing else comes close.  The cheaper generic store brands fall short.  The organic, whole grain, no artificial color options are gritty, under seasoned and no fun.  The deluxe versions with a gooey viscous cheese sauce packet in lieu of the powder were always too gummy for me even as a child.  And the frozen macaroni and cheese dinners completely miss the point.

You would think that everyone could make Kraft Mac & Cheese and make it well.  I know I would.  But we would be wrong.  Really you can’t even trust the directions on the back of the box anymore.  I can’t say for sure, but I do believe they have changed to make the product appear more healthful.

A friend once made KM&C for me in a microwave, and it turned oddly soupy and wet.  Another friend liked the pasta to be al dente.  This was entirely misguided.  If you followed the directions on the box, you would be using 2% milk and margarine.  Margarine?  Blasphemy.

First, cook the food in a pot.  It’s fast enough as it is.  Give the microwave a rest.  Second, drain that pasta, and drain it well.  Most importantly, use whole milk and butter.  This is not health food.  It’s junk.  Let’s make it the best we can.  Add the butter first, then the pasta, then the milk, then the “cheese” packet.

It feels so wrong, but I love the way it looks when I’m stirring this bright orange mixture with a well-worn wood spoon in my gleaming stainless All-Clad saucepan.

Remember how I said it gets worse.  It’s coming.  KM&C as prepared has a distinct lifecycle.  You may never have noticed this.  I break it down into three phases.

Phase One: This phase is the shortest.  It only lasts for a mere moment.  And it is by far the best expression of KM&C.  It occurs when the very last piece of butter has just melted into the sauce.  Now, at this precise instant, it is incumbent upon you to shovel a large wooden spoonful of hot buttery slippery salty goo in your mouth and down your gullet.  There is barely any chewing involved, and is more an exercise in orgasmic texture.  If you practice and are fast, you may be able to get two or three spoonfuls down, before it transitions.

Phase Two:  This is the settled texture of the KM&C on the plate or in the bowl as served at the table.  It’s fine.  The sauce isn’t quite as slippery or hot.  And it still beats all competing brands even at their Stage One.  There is no rush, feel free to enjoy dinner time conversation and eat with a fork or a spoon, depending on your preference.

Here is where it gets ugly.

Phase Three:  Still hungry, you go back to the stove for seconds.  Even though the pot is off heat, and has been covered the KM&C is now clumpy.  When I was young, my father would mix Heinz tomato ketchup into his mac and cheese.  And, well, um, now I guess I do that too.  Yes, it may sound disgusting, but it tastes pretty much like it sounds.  The vinegar of the ketchup brightens the phase three bowl up a bit and adds a bit of additional sweetness to complement the salty.

I can try and justify this all day.  But it is what it is.  I now stand naked before you.

If it helps at all, I’ve recently taken to substituting the ketchup with Sriracha.  It does the job.  But when I am looking for comfort food, I want to eat what I ate as a kid.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Vanessa permalink
    June 4, 2009 11:59 am

    OMG, you are the only other person that I know that enjoys KMC with Heinz! I love it. The KMC is NOT complete without a squirt of ketchup. Sometimes I even like to add frozen green peas (I am salivating at the thought), and my sister adds a can of tuna, for a improv of a tuna noodle. But, the KMC with ketchup has always been my go to feeling sorry for myself, guilty pleasure dinner…preferably the whole box! Oink

    Oh, and btw, you skipped an entire stage of the lifecycle. If refridgerated, it becomes almost like a kugel..but you have to be in a severe altered state to enjoy this delicacy :)

    • Tonia permalink
      June 4, 2009 12:08 pm

      I can’t even begin to tell you at how much I am laughing over here on the blog and the response. I thought I was the only person who knew the phases…. AND hello the KM&C Kugel. AWESOME. LOL. I have one lonely box in my pantry, just waiting…………..

      My favorite junk food is, I know, gasp fake cheese sauce or a Friendly’s grilled cheese. I know, I know……………. which is ironic b/c I LOVE a good cheese or a ‘fancy’ grilled cheese… or panini.

  2. Tonia permalink
    June 4, 2009 12:10 pm

    A word on the ketchup…….. HEINZ. There is no substitute. I can tell a mile away at restaurants if they try to refill with a non-Heinz ketchup. Organic and/or Hunt’s is THE worst. UGH.

  3. Vanessa permalink
    June 4, 2009 1:37 pm

    yesterday I was at Dunkin Donuts…I know, but I have kids…Anyway I was eating the veggie egg white flatbread, that I thought would go fabulously with some ketchup. I asked and received Hunts. I am an only Heinz girl myself..but I decided to try. All I can say is it tasted like not what I expected.blech

    • Tonia permalink
      June 4, 2009 2:03 pm

      GROSS. Man. AND, it has to be Hellman’s mayo. I won’t use anything else. Even when I was a kid my mom would try to get Cain’s or something else. I always knew. It made me gag.

      I’m so sorry for your Hunt’s experience. LOL.

  4. Raf permalink
    June 4, 2009 2:35 pm


    • brownie permalink
      June 25, 2009 1:04 pm

      Ick? This is what I EAT about three times a week. Delish. Cooked as above, but with a dab of sour cream mixed in, and liberal Heinz. Glad to know I’m not the only one who enjoys it this way. Long live Kraft Dinner.

  5. Jennifer permalink
    June 5, 2009 11:52 am

    I like Annies mac and cheese but you have to make it just so to get it not gritty.
    While the pasta is boiling, mix the cheese packet, half and half and butter in a bowl and nuke it for 60-90 seconds. Mix it with the drained noodles and toss with a handful of grated cheddar. It’s good like that, I swear! Not gritty at all.

    But then again, with all the extra work, I might as well make homemade. Which I mostly do anyway.

    And I remember Cook’s Illustrated doing ketchup reviews a while ago and taste testers preferred the Hunt’s.

  6. June 9, 2009 1:46 pm

    and oddly enough, I won’t any mac n’ cheese unless it’s Kraft Mac n’n Cheese. Esp when it’s 2 am and there’s something really fantastical about consuming an entire box by yrself.

  7. February 28, 2012 12:20 pm

    NEVER add as much milk as the directions call for unless you want to end up with soup.

    Jan and Michael Stern write that one of their guilty pleasures is to buy two boxes, and then steal the cheese package from the second box and mix it with the first. I tried it- it’s mild blowing but you won’t want to eat salt for the rest of the week.

    As to left overs…I eat them the next day ice cold from the refrigerator with ketchup.

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