A few weeks ago I had an impromptu girls night at my house with one of my friends. During our phone conversation before she came over we found out that neither one of us had eaten dinner yet. And it was already 8:00 pm. The things we moms sacrifice for our kids, right?! I told her not to worry about it, I would throw something on the stove and we could eat together. As soon as I hung up the phone I opened my pantry doors and thought, “Oh crap. Now what?” I quickly assembled a dinner in the 15-20 minutes before she arrived and as we sat on the couch eating, my friend said, “I need to learn how to cook more fancy recipes like this. This is really good.”
I wanted to laugh out loud. My fancy recipe was…..boxed macaroni and cheese. *GASP!* Yes, it is true. We occasionally eat mac n’ cheese in this house. I know that thought horrifies some people but come on. There are just some nights where having a quick and easy dinner you can pull out of a box saves my sanity. I do, however, have a few tricks to make an easy dinner seem like it wasn’t quite so easy to prepare. Here are my favorite ways to dress up boxed macaroni and cheese and create a “fancy” meal.
The first “recipe” adds steamed broccoli and toasted bread crumbs to the Shells & Real Aged Cheddar. While the water is boiling/noodles cooking I throw some frozen broccoli in the steamer and then toast the bread crumbs in some melted butter. For one box of macaroni I melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a small pan and stir in 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Then I just let them saute, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and slightly crispy.
Mix the broccoli into the pasta and then sprinkle the top with your toasted bread crumbs and a handful of cheddar cheese. Seriously, yum. I honestly don’t know why adding two little ingredients makes such a big difference but it is really good. And my two year old will chow down on it, broccoli included. That’s a win right there.
The next variation uses the Shells & White Cheddar and adds peas and shredded chicken. Chicken tenderloins cook faster than chicken breasts so I prefer to use those if I’m in a hurry. (Or if you’re really pressed for time there is no shame in using canned chicken. I won’t tell!) Take 3 or 4 tenderloins and season each side with some salt and pepper. Place them in a foil lined baking dish and bake at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. While that is baking cook your noodles! Right before you drain the pasta add in about a cup of frozen peas. The warm water and noodles will be all you need to thaw the peas. Shred the chicken when it is finished cooking and mix into the pasta. Sprinkle the top with some Parmesan cheese.
The final twist adds just a hint of spiciness and bacon. And when you add bacon to anything it automatically makes it awesome. It’s a known fact. While waiting for your pasta, cook your bacon slices and chop into bite sized pieces. After making the macaroni and cheese stir in about 3 Tablespoons, or 1 small 2 oz. jar, of pimentos. I wouldn’t mix the bacon bits in because they’ll get soggy if you have any leftovers so just sprinkle the bacon and some pepper-jack cheese over the top. Tasty!
If you serve any of these variations with a side of bread or a small salad then pat yourself on the back, mama. You just put together one “fancy” meal for your family. Or your unsuspecting friend, whatever the case may be. :)