Any exploration of bachelor cuisine must include an investigation of one of the foundational dishes of the form: box macaroni and cheese.
Box Macaroni and Cheese
Box Mac with Oil
1 box macaroni and cheese
I developed this recipe,
mentioned in my Squishy Yellow Elegy,
in response to a double-edged problem. First, I was dissatisfied with
the richness and cheesiness of my box mac. Too often, you wind up with
a bland, greasy noodle mess. I may have no taste, but I have taste
buds, damn it, and I insist they be challenged. The blandness problem
is, to a certain extent, a matter of cooking technique; I find that
leaning well to the al dente side of things makes the box mac cheesier.
I also found that leaving out the milk makes for a less runny, more
forceful dish. As a result, I had been making my box mac exclusively
with butter (or, more frequently, margarine, which melts more readily)
for some time.
The second part of my
problem was that I was, at the time, living in a dorm. I had no proper
kitchen, and no refrigerator. I just had a hot pot (for those of you
well removed from the college lifestyle, a hot pot is like an
open-topped electric kettle. Like a hot plate, only a pot. Hence the
name). Now, a hot pot is an admirable vessel for cooking box mac, as
long as you have a strainer and no qualms about dumping boiling water
out a fourth-story window into the quad. But margarine keeps poorly
without refrigeration, and hanging your perishables outside in a bag
doesn't work as well as you might think, even in the depths of winter.
Faced with this
conundrum, I made a daring and terrible logical leap. I essayed an
experiment, using pure vegetable oil in place of margarine. It worked
surprisingly well. It makes a thick, gooey cheese sauce, extremely rich
and tarry. You have to be careful not to overdo it; too much oil, and
it passes gooey into greasy and oily, which isn't very good. Oil allows
you to back off from the al dente principle a bit; it's actually sort
of good to have slightly better done noodles, so that they soak up some
oil and let go some starchy goodness to party down with the oil and
cheese and make a truly righteous cheese sauce.
I don't cook Box Mac
with Oil much any more; I have a kitchen now, and a post-adolescent
metabolism. Box Mac with Oil is also particularly disappointing when it
fails - noodles swimming in oil are not appealing. It's like a reheated
Alfredo sauce. Occasionally I use a few drops of oil to supplement the
margarine when I feel particularly decadent.
CAUTION: Under no
circumstances use olive oil in this recipe! The results will be vile
Egg Noodles and Cheese
Wide egg noodles
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese cheese topping
This was a dish of my
childhood. It depends on a particular product, Kraft Macaroni &
Cheese cheese topping. It used to be called, I believe, Kraft Grated
American Cheese Food. In most supermarkets, you can find green
canisters of pre-grated Parmesan. They also make grated Romano, in a
red canister (it was red, anyway). And they used to make American in a
yellow canister. However, somewhere along the line, Kraft took it off
the market, and then decided to reintroduce it as part of their box mac
brand. It's a festive blue canister, now. At any rate, you make this
dish by boiling up some egg noodles, straining them, dumping them on a
plate, and sprinking with cheese topping to taste. It's similar to box
mac, but way less fat. You can also get casual about the cooking; egg
noodles don't care if you overcook them. It's really hard to ruin an
Red's Box Mac Tuna
1 box macaroni and cheese
1 can tuna, packed in water
four slices American cheese
Optional: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese cheese topping
This is only sort of a
casserole. I've never made it in a real casserole dish; instead, I use
one of a few medium-deep round bowls I have. Whatever you make it in
needs to be microwave safe.
Make your box mac
according to taste. Turn it out into your bowl. Add the tuna, and stir
well. I don't advise using oil-packed tuna; despite my general comfort
with box mac and oil, oil-packed tuna invariably makes a greasy
casserole. At this point, you can sprinkle the surface with some cheese
topping, but it's optional.
Finally, layer the
surface with American cheese slices. I recommend using pre-sliced
cheese; it's easier to get a uniform thickness, and it tends to have
the right amount of processing for good melting. I try to stay with
packages labeled "cheese" or "processed cheese". "Cheese food" and
"cheese spread" get a little too artificial even for me. I usually wind
up tearing up the last slice or two to fit the uncovered corners.
Then pop the bowl in the
microwave and heat on high for one to two minutes, until the cheese has
melted. Serve quickly; it's still good once the cheese cools, but it's
not as good. I recommend waiting until the cheese is no longer molten,
however; it's best hot enough for all the parts to be soft, but not too
hot to taste.
Box Mac with Bonus Cheese
1 box macaroni and cheese
1 slice American cheese
This is the simplest way
I know to give your box mac's cheesiness a boot in the rear. After
preparing your box mac in the usual fashion, toss in a slice of
American cheese with the butter or margarine. Stir vigorously. You may
want to put the pot back on a low heat while you do this. The cheese
melts relatively quickly, and the resulting cheese sauce is wonderfully
thick and sticky.
This is a good technique
for when you've mildly botched your box mac and created a bland batch.
It's not as risky as Box Mac with Oil.
I use American cheese
rather than a more respectable cheese because better cheeses don't melt
as well. Processed cheddar works sometimes, and will usually work for
Red's Tuna Casserole, now that I think about it, but cheddar sliced
from a block probably won't do it. Cheshire is right out; too dry.
Grated cheddar can work if you add some heat and start with a fairly
moist sauce. Soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert would probably melt,
but mixing classy cheese and box mac is just silly. I mean, at that
point I might as well start adding a bechamel sauce or something.
Box Mac and Spam
1 box macaroni and cheese.
1 small can Spam
I got this recipe out of
a TV commercial. This is, for bachelor cuisine, the highest possible
provenance -- superior even to can labels -- but I remain slightly
dubious. However, it's such a good example of the style that I include
A small can of Spam is
key. A larger can is way too much Spam. Dice the Spam, or cut it into
1/4" sticks. Fry until lightly browned. Overbrowning your Spam will
make it overpowering.
Make your box mac to
taste. I recommend a lighter recipe; this is a heavy dish, and using
Box Mac with Oil or Box Mac with Bonus Cheese will make it a bit strong.
Mix the Spam into the
box mac. Stir well and serve.
This recipe is better
than it sounds; on the other hand, it sounds pretty bad. The salty,
greasy meat flavor of Spam is an interesting accent to the salty,
greasy cheese flavor of box mac, and the firm yet spongy luncheon meat
adds texture. The die-hard aficionado of bachelor cuisine will enjoy
this dish; it is, in a sense, the escargots of bachelor cuisine.