Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: Time to trade up microwaved pasta and glowing orange powder for real macaroni and cheese.
In this week's installment of Unsavory Confessions of a Food Writer: Sometimes, late on a Sunday night, I will indulge in boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. And yes, I'm inevitably struck with regret, usually during the precise moment when I'm wearily tearing that packet of fluorescent orange faux cheese powder open.
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I'm not turning my nose up at the boxed stuff -- I'll forever carry a torch for childhood staples and drunk dorm food -- but a few bites in, I remember that with just a half hour's worth more effort, I could be eating something infinitely more satisfying.
Here's how to upgrade your macaroni and cheese:
1. Crack open a beer and put on Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours." Laugh at your own "Fleetwood Mac and Cheese" joke for a few minutes. Then, really, truly listen to the lyrics of "Dreams." Get a little misty-eyed and down the rest of your beer.
2. Boil your water and cook your pasta -- it's best to stick to small shapes like elbows, bowties, or shells.
3. Melt butter in a saucepan, then stir in flour and keep stirring the mixture until it browns slightly. Take your pan off the heat and add milk while continually whisking the two for a few minutes. Return your pan to the heat, then stir until all the contents start to thicken.
4. Now, take your pan off the heat again and add cheese. You're going to want to start with a base of a slightly harder, grating cheese -- think cheddar or smoked Gouda. Once your pasta and cheese are combined, you can certainly add softer cheeses such as brie or goat cheese for a different flavor profile.
5. Add your drained pasta to the completed cheese sauce and stir thoroughly.
6. At this point, you can eat as-is, bake, or add additional vegetables or proteins.