Popular and simple to prepare, boxed macaroni and cheese is a popular convenience cuisine. However, you need not opt for its standard flavor. A basic mac and cheese dish can be transformed into a gourmet delight with a little imagination and a few simple additions. This article explores the art of elevating boxed macaroni and cheese by adding various ingredients and seasonings to create a culinary masterpiece.
15 Easy Ways To Upgrade Boxed Mac & Cheese For Last-Minute Dinners
Here are 15 ways to upgrade boxed mac and cheese for last minute dinner :
1. Broccoli + Shredded +Chicken
This dish is the perfect comfort food, and it’s very easy to make, especially if you have chicken from the night before. While the noodles are boiling, simply steam or sauté broccoli florets, or even better, use the same water kettle to cook the broccoli and the noodles. After draining the noodles and incorporating the cheese, stir in the broccoli and chicken (either yellow or white cheddar will do) until everything is heated.
2. Bacon + Peas + Egg
Consider the Italian-Roman classic spaghetti carbonara for inspiration. A method is straightforward: While the water boils, cut the bacon into one-inch cubes and cook it until golden. Next, crack two eggs into a basin and stir the cheese powder mixture into the eggs with a fork. Once the noodles are cooked, stir in the egg-cheese mixture (along with a dash of milk or pasta water, per the instructions) until well combined. Toss in the bacon and peas (I use frozen; there’s no need to cook them separately; they’ll heat up readily in the warm cheese), and you’ve got a fuss-free carbonara prototype ready in minutes.
3. Garlic + Pickled Jalapeños
You must taste this combination if you enjoy intense flavors and a bit of heat. Fry a few cloves worth of minced garlic until golden brown (or, if you don’t want to dirty an extra pan, use garlic powder), then combine it with coarsely diced pickled jalapenos and macaroni (I prefer yellow cheddar varieties for this recipe).
4. Mushrooms + Thyme + Grated Gruyère
I was inspired by this recipe for baked eggs to create a laid-back weekend atmosphere. Using a knob of butter and some minced fresh thyme, sauté sliced mushrooms (of any variety) in a pan. Once the instant mac is cooked (try this recipe with white cheddar varieties), combine the sautéed mushrooms and grated Gruyère cheese. If you want to get cozy, you can put the macaroni and cheese in a casserole dish, add the Gruyère on top, and put the dish under the broiler for a few minutes to make a bubbly and brown crust.
5. Pesto + Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Confined to two or three tablespoons of basil-flavored pesto? The most delicious solution is to incorporate it into your mac and cheese. Then, add chopped sun-dried tomatoes for sweetness and umami-rich flavor. Sprinkle the final product with freshly grated Parmesan as an ideal finishing touch.
6. Kimchi + Bacon + Chopped Scallions
Chef and culinary writer Caroline Choe introduced this sublime Korean-inspired combination to us. Since she came up with her recipe for Kimchi Macaroni & Cheese, her family, friends, and coworkers have been unable to get enough of it, and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work with packaged mac and cheeses (especially yellow cheddar varieties). The secret is to reduce the acidity of the kimchi by sautéing it before adding it to the macaroni and cheese along with bacon pieces and scallions.
7. Cherry Tomatoes + Basil + Mozzarella
Sure, you’ve heard of the traditional Caprese salad, as well as its cousins, the Caprese grilled cheese sandwich and a grilled panzanella variation. However, have you ever considered adding these ingredients to your instant macaroni and cheese? Possibly not, but that does not mean you shouldn’t try. Simply blend in halved cherry tomatoes, chopped fresh basil, and chunks of melted mozzarella for a light and fresh upgrade.
8. Spicy Italian Sausage + Onions + Marinara
One of my preferred pasta dishes is both simple and delicious. The first step is to sauté minced onions, followed by the addition of crumbled spicy Italian sausage. Once everything is fully cooked, add a cup or two of my preferred marina sauce from a can (Rao’s). This, along with a small amount of penne pasta, is a no-brainer for a weeknight meal, but I believe it would taste even better when combined with the piquant cheddar in instant macaroni and cheese.
9. Chicken Nuggets + Buffalo Sauce
Although I’m not a fan of Buffalo sauce (I know, you don’t understand how or why), I have a few friends who would consume it. My best friend’s favorite way to ingest this fiery, tangy substance is in the form of a Buffalo chicken sandwich, which consists of breaded chicken slathered in Buffalo sauce and stuffed inside a submarine. If you think that sounds delicious, add some crispy chicken nuggets (heated in the oven or microwave) and a few dashes of Buffalo sauce to your boxed sharp cheddar mac and cheese.
10. Ground Beef + Kidney Beans + Chili Powder
Except for chili smothered in cheddar cheese and noodles, nothing hits the mark like a steaming pot of chili on a football game day or a cold winter evening. For this dish, it’s simplest to open a can of pre-made chili (I like Trader Joe’s turkey chili) and combine it with your preferred sharp cheddar-flavored instant mac. However, if you don’t have one in your pantry, you can achieve a comparable result by combining ground beef, kidney beans, and chili powder. Spruce it up with a dollop of sour cream and minced green chilies for an extra kick.
11. Marinated Artichokes + Roasted Garlic + Sautéed Spinach
Spinach and artichoke dip is “Old Reliable” at every party I throw or go to. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind, but my guests always leave it alone. Here’s how to make your grilled cheese feel like a party: Drain and dice a handful of artichoke hearts that have been marinated. In the same pan, cook some baby spinach with garlic and olive oil until soft. After that, put the cooked pasta in the pan with the garlic and spinach.
12. Miso + Mushrooms
Hard cheese? Umami. Miso? Umami. Are those fungi? Umami. Guess what happens when you combine them all! A substantial amount of hazelnut, cheesy, earthy, creamy…umami. I was inspired by recipe developer Yi Jun Loh’s miso-mushroom marvel. I implore you to prepare his miso cream sauce when you have more time.
13. Peppadews + Mayo + Hot Sauce
What does pimento cheese not enhance? … I will interpret this silence as an answer. Add chopped peppadews, pimentos, or roasted red bell peppers to cooked macaroni and cheese, a swirl of mayonnaise, and several dashes of spicy sauce. For bonus points, sprinkle with crumbled Ritz crackers; you will not be disappointed.
14. Lemon Zest + Parsley + Buttery Bread Crumbs
Panko or ordinary bread crumbs, whichever you have on hand, should be sautéed in a large knob of salted butter before being topped with lemon zest, parsley, and toasted bread crumbs. All ingredients should be tossed with the prepared macaroni and cheese before consumption.
15. Olives And/or Anchovies + Cherry Tomatoes + Parsley
Puttanesca is one of our favorite pasta, packed with anchovies, olives, tomatoes, and seasonings. Even though puttanesca traditionally does not include cheese (even on top! ), I am all about experimenting. Simply tear up some olives (green, black, or both), slice some cherry tomatoes, chop some parsley to sprinkle on top, and incorporate them into your macaroni. If you have capers, feel free to add them (drained water or vinegar-packed, or rinsed and drained salt-brined).
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