Not Kraft, but crafted
Macaroni and cheese...most of us grew up on variants of this classic. It’s a simple, but tasty dish made even easier thanks to Kraft foods. Celebrated with a long history of children’s dinners, ideal meals for those fasting for Lent, and a hearty side in many barbecue feasts.
It's an ancient idea
The idea of pasta and cheese is nothing new, but the evolution to what we see now is interesting. Variations on the modern pasta have existed since ancient times, but baking a dish of macaroni with cheese and butter was more noted in Medieval Europe with the famous cookbook, Liber de Coquina.
How the dish evolved is more one of those classic stories of American cuisine and culture. Many American homemakers were baking up macaroni and cheese combinations for decades, but it was author Mary Randolph who first published a recipe in her now famous book, The Virginia Housewife.
Since Randolph’s book, many other later publications wrote their own recipes for mac and cheese, and the dish was really regarded as “fine dining” up until the average public were able to make it themselves for a very low cost. So imagine in the late 1800s macaroni and cheese was only found in expensive luxurious restaurants.
It wasn’t until the Great Depression that Kraft Foods came into the picture with their now famous Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. Most of what Kraft was selling was their ability to make the cheese sauce into a dry product that could sit on shelves for a long time. Ideal in an era when nothing was to be wasted.
The modern day
Since the hard days of the Depression, mac and cheese has found a special home in barbecue cuisine as a side dish, as well as a favorite meal for children who might want their food more simple but tasty.
Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese Dinner has become a beloved favorite of many around the world. Unfortunately, it’s not the most healthy of foods, and even next to impossible to recreate perfectly on your own. This is why I’m not going to lie. The mac and cheese I’m going to show you today will not taste like Kraft’s...but that’s not a bad thing to be honest.
I originally set out to make a healthier mac and cheese. Looking over many recipes online, I ended up finding a great tip from chef and fitness food expert Rocco DiSpirito. He created a great puree of onions and garlic he nicknamed “Rocco’s Secret Weapon”, which will take the place of the bechamel (butter, milk, and flour) sauce normally used in a homemade American mac and cheese.
I will honestly say the final recipe I came up with using Rocco’s Secret Weapon tasted better in my opinion than Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. Maybe it’s one of those “growing up” things where kids’ foods taste terrible to an adult, or Kraft lost a step, or it’s the panko crumbs on top. Who knows? Give this recipe a try and judge for yourself.
Only challenge is cleaning the cheese off your pot.
Healthy Macaroni and Cheese
- 1/2 of a large Vidalia onion, chopped into chunks
- 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup of water
- 2 tbsp of canola or vegetable oil
- 1 cup of reduced-fat mild cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/3 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt
- 4 ounces of whole wheat macaroni or pasta, cooked
- 1/4 cup of whole wheat panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 425°.
- Place the onion chunks, garlic cloves, and water into a microwave-safe bowl. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid, and microwave on high for 10 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor, and blend it into a smooth puree.
- Take a small oven-safe dish and coat the bottom and interior sides with the oil.
- In a small saucepan, place 1/2 cup of the onion/garlic puree on medium heat.
- In small amounts, add the cheddar cheese and continue whisking the mixture. Do not add more cheese until the cheese added melts.
- When you have a nice smooth sauce, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Greek yogurt.
- In a larger bowl, combine the macaroni or pasta with the cheese sauce.
- Pour the mixture into your oiled dish and top with the panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
- Place the final dish into the oven for about 10 minutes, or until you see the crumbs turn more golden.
The pasta you choose is entirely up to you. I recommend elbows, but penne, shells, or rotini will work as well. I'd stay away from any stringy or long pasta for this one.
The dish you use is up to you. A simple 8" x 8" dish is ideal, or a nice small casserole dish like in the photo.
Be patient when adding in the cheese. The secret to getting cheddar cheese to melt uniformly is to add it in small amounts and working it in. If you go too fast, you'll end up with clumps. A whisk is a must-have tool for this, as well as for your kitchen in general.
This recipe will create a more mild, simple flavor that children will like. If you're seriously wanting to recreate Kraft's recipe, then you'll have to go the route of using processed cheeses like Kraft singles or Velveeta. Not the most healthy choice though.
If you wish to kick up the boldness, add in 1/2 tsp of dry mustard powder when you start to mix the puree in the saucepan. If you need it even more bold, use sharp cheddar as opposed to mild. If you like it spicy, add a pinch of cayenne pepper to the puree in the saucepan. These results actually came out of when I first made the dish and it was very bold, thus I had to lighten up the flavor for Zuzana and others.
If you want to go further than the recipe, try adding in cut up hot dogs or sausage. Use cooked bacon, browned ground beef, or even canned tuna. You can also play with the cheeses if you want a different flavor. Zuzana's stepmom in Slovakia makes a wonderful pasta with smoked cheese, peppers, and sausage. You could easily pull that off with this recipe as a backbone.