Sometimes I need a break in the kitchen. And sometimes when life throws up all over and then continues to wretch, I need something quick for dinner, and I need it right now! I don’t like relying on processed foods, and I try to have healthier options available when I find myself in a pinch. Nevertheless, sometimes things simply don’t work out like I want them to. Thus, when I find myself in a dire emergency, I reach for one of the few, choice convenience foods I keep on hand. I try to make sure that these convenience foods are as “healthful” (ha!) as you can get in a cardboard box. Sometimes, when the planets align, I can stock up for a decent price, too. For example, a while back my local grocer had tons of Back to Nature brand Organic Macaroni and Cheese Spirals on clearance. A coupon was also printing out at checkout, so I was able to make out like a bandit! I picked up a case of these babies for $0.19/box!
Though I’m not sure anything packaged in a box can be called a health food, I do like the fact that the Back to Nature brand pasta is organic and the ingredients list is simple and easy to pronounce, and I know what every ingredient is, and none of them make me cringe. (For inquiring minds that are dying to know, the ingredients are: organic semolina, nonfat milk, whey, cultured milk, salt, non-animal enzymes, maltodextrin, salt, cornstarch, and cultured milk). Not bad for boxed mac, right? Nevertheless, I do try to boost the nutrients in a dish whenever I rely on a convenience food like this, and I also try to kick up the flavor a notch- I need sassy mac! In my quest to improve boxed mac and cheese, I believe I have arrived at Nirvana, and it only takes 7 minutes from start to finish! Behold…..
- 3 boxes of Back to Nature’s mac and cheese, or any other brand of your choosing
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 cup plain, traditional yogurt (I love Greek Gods brand in the green container)
- 1 teaspoon season salt, homemade or your preferred brand
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (totally optional- freshly grated is amazing, but powdered from a container is tasty too)
- 1 tablespoon (or more!!!) of your favorite salsa, wing sauce or hot sauce (optional but oh-so-yummy!)
- Put the noodles on to boil according to the instructions on the box.
- Put the cashews and water into a good blender capable of making cashew cream (see more here) and blend, starting on the lowest setting and progressing to the highest setting. Process in the blender until a smooth creamy texture is achieved (in my Vitamix, it takes 60-90 seconds on high).
- Incorporate the yogurt and cheese powder packets, blending on low until just mixed.
- Add the season salt and nutritional yeast, blending on low until just incorporated.
- Add the parmesan and wing sauce, if desired. Pulse for a second or two.
- Strain the noodles, return them to the pan, and pour your creamy, delicious sauce all over the top! Stir and serve!
Food For Thought
Why do I make my mac and cheese this way? Good question! It seems like an odd mix to use the dairy-based cheese packets while ditching the butter and adding a vegan cashew cream and dairy-based yogurt, and throwing in some odd things on the side like nutritional yeast! Well, here’s why I do what I do:
- I am not a huge fan of consuming large amounts of dairy products, for I am not convinced that milk in large quantities truly does a body good. So, I try to limit our intake to small amounts of quality cheese and cultured, living yogurt and buttermilk.
- I have asthma. My asthma is only triggered by a few things, one of them being liquid milk. Milk that has been processed into other goods doesn’t seem to be a problem- cheese, buttermilk and yogurt are fine. But that liquid milk gets me every time. So I leave it out and opt for a deliciously creamy cashew substitute!
- I like feeding my family cultured products- foods that are alive and good for your gut, immune system and more. Probiotics are sooo important, so I try to throw them in wherever I can. I find the tartness of the yogurt gives the mac a nice kick and compliments the cheesy flavor, and I love that there are good probiotic beasties in the dish. This is why I never return the mac and cheese to the stove to heat after I add the sauce, as continuing to heat the dish would likely kill all the live probiotics provided by the yogurt. Once the sauce is in the noodles, the pan hits the table and it’s time to eat!
- The season salt I use is homemade and offers a good source of healthful salt and minerals from all natural himalayan pink salt. I also add the nutritional yeast because it not only has a great cheesy flavor which enhances the dish quite nicely, but also provides a wealth of health boosting nutrients. Nutritional yeast is a complete protein and provides a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. The compounds in nutritional yeast are linked to improved immunity, lowered cholesterol and better cancer prevention, among other things. It is an awesome tool in the kitchen! Learn more here!
So tell, me: what is your favorite brand of boxed mac and cheese? And how do you like to kick it up a notch? What alterations do you make to concoct your favorite mac and cheese dish?
***Note: If you are looking for a great way to make delicious authentic mac and cheese without a lot of fuss, I totally recommend taking a look at Martha Stewart’s Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph. They have a great One Skillet Mac and Cheese. It is tasty, and takes minimal effort to make- you use only one pot and you don’t even have to drain the noodles! I also recommend browsing their video selection! Fascinating stuff! They offer all kinds of tricks and tips to making your kitchen work a snap! Thank you Thomas Joseph! You have made my life easier and cleared the confusion many a time for me!