Macaroni and Cheese Faceoff

 I have learned that the best way to be efficient in the kitchen is to actually look at what you have on hand, and start from there. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but somehow, my brain wants to start elsewhere, which often means getting halfway into a venture only to abandon the effort, or wind up with a hot mess. Therefore, I am pleased to say that by looking in my fridge and pantry this weekend, I deduced that we must have macaroni and cheese. Must!

However, the little nerd has come to an understanding that 'mac 'n cheese' comes out of a box and envelope. Let's just say he seems to favour the version that rhymes with 'raft winner'. I know you know what I'm talking about - that infamous staple of students everywhere. I can't really fault his tastebuds, because I too, sometimes like me a big 'ol bowl of raft winner. (Please don't vault your forks at me!) Therefore, this week's blog is shaping up to be a grand faceoff: homemade versus processed macaroni and cheese. We'll put the little nerd to the taste test to see which will impress a four year old the most.

Mac and Cheese: 3 1/4 cups of old cheddar, shredded; 4 tbsp butter; 4 tbsp flour; 2 cups milk; 1/2 small onion finely minced; pinch nutmeg; 1 bay leaf; 2 cups macaroni; 1/2 cup breadcrumbs; salt & pepper. 

Raft Winner: 225g box which includes: enriched pasta (from wheat); cheese sauce [cheese(milk, bacterial culture, salt, cream, lipase, microbial enzymes, calcium chloride, colour) modified milk ingredients, salt, sodium phosphates, colour (contains tartrazine), flavour, citric acid]
(Although you can add milk or butter to this, it is sacreligious in my house to do so. All you need is what is in the box)
*I have to say that I cannot further describe such generic terms such as 'colour' and 'flavour'. You may want to turn a blind eye here, rather than try to take this any further. 

Preparation: Step One

Mac and Cheese: Begin by melting the butter on low heat, and then add the flour to create a roux. (That's 'roo', and not 'rowcks' as I have heard recently) Once the paste has been cooked for a few minutes, gradually add the milk until combined. Add the minced onion, bay leaf, and nutmeg, and allow to thicken on low - medium heat, stirring constantly. As the milk thickens, add 3 cups of the cheese gradually, and combine until smooth. You now have the cheese sauce, or if you want to impress people, call it Mornay sauce. 

Raft Winner: Fill a pot with 6 cups of water, and jack up the stove to high. Add some salt to the water if you prefer (although, it is listed twice on the package) and bring to a rolling boil. Yup. That's it for now. 

Preparation: Step Two

Mac and Cheese: Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Grease a 9x11 baking pan, and preheat the oven to 350F. Boil the macaroni for 6 minutes, or until al-dente. Drain the macaroni, and put inside the pan. Remove the bay leaf from the cheese sauce, and pour into the pan, mixing evenly throughout the noodles. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the top, and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Raft Winner: Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook 7-8 minutes. If you prefer noodles that don't dissolve upon hitting your tongue, you may want to alter this time for a firmer texture. As a child, I called this 'chewy'. Now, I can say al-dente, and mean the same thing without receiving weird looks. 

Preparation: Step Three

Mac and Cheese: Bake the macaroni for 30 minutes. You know it is ready when you can see the sauce bubbling up from the toasty crust on top. Let this settle (if you can) for about 10 minutes. This will allow you to cut pretty pieces, if you so desire.

Raft Winner: This is where the magic begins. Drain the noodles, and grab the cheese sauce mix envelope. Gently tear open the top of the envelope over the noodles, so that stray cheese powder doesn't get lost. You'll want to mix this into the noodles slowly, and in batches, enabling the microbial enzymes and tartrazine to consistently colour the noodles a bright shade of hunter orange. If you have drained off too much water, your noodles may be a bit sticky, and if not enough, you may end up with raft winner soup. This delicate balance is tough to master, but with persistence and patience, you can achieve just the right level of moisture to let the lipase do its work.

Outcome: Upon presenting both versions to the little nerd, an attempt was made to make the homemade version sound a lot more appealing. It was difficult to get him to agree, and he continued to call the homemade version 'dirty' and the raft winner 'clean'. I thought it may be the breadcrumb topping, so it was removed. He was not fooled. He remains adamant that the only kind of mac 'n cheese he'll touch is the kind that stains my wooden spoons. Bribery, in the form of ice cream and/or pudding, was not effective in changing his opinion, which was that the homemade mac is 'pretty yucky'. Now that's a firm stance!


Lessons Learned: Four-year olds are not great food critics. They are also attracted to foods that have mystery ingredients, and strong 'colours' and 'flavours'. Brand recognition begins early, as I discovered after he pulled out the infamous blue box once I mentioned we would be having mac 'n cheese. Though disappointing, there are many years of palate development ahead. Perhaps we'll try this again when he is 10.    


  1. Darn, I wasn't there to taste your homemade version. I bet it was yummy. That other stuff...*shudders*.... Rosemary

  2. Well...something told me that he would pick the KD! Not that your mac 'n cheese is not the best ever...Ma

  3. I LOVE homemade mac n cheese - invite me over next time!! Avery prefers the evil box too.


Post a Comment