Salsa Boxed Mac + Cheese

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This might be my favorite souped-up mac and cheese recipe.

And it’s also the simplest!

Win-win!

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All you need to do is add some chili powder and scallions!

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Then top it with some tangy salsa!

It’s so easy, but mac and cheese and salsa just really love each other.

And my belly can't help getting in on this Lovefest, too!

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Salsa Boxed Mac + Cheese

servings: 2

Ingredients:

  • One 6-ounce box macaroni + cheese with powdered cheese mix
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped scallions, more for a garnish
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
  • ¾ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ cup chunky salsa or pico de gallo

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished.
  2. Return the pasta to the same pot over medium heat, adding the scallions, milk, butter, cheese powder packet, and chili powder, then stir all ingredients to combine.
  3. To serve, top with the salsa and reserved scallions.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Sausage + Pepper Boxed Mac + Cheese

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I love this recipe because it makes boxed mac and cheese into a complete meal.

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A complete meal complete with the mouth-watering flavor combination of sausage, peppers, and cheese.

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You sauté up the peppers and sausage while the pasta cooks up, so there's minimal extra time involved in hacking this mac!

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Then it all gets mixed together into one cheesy, porky mess.

Vegetables, protein, cheese, and carbs—not bad for something that (mostly) came out of a box!

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Sausage + Pepper Boxed Mac + Cheese

servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups beef stock
  • One 14-ounce box macaroni + cheese with liquid sauce packet
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 link sweet Italian sausage (about 4 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Add the stock to a large pot over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook until al dente—8 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally; drain when finished, but do not rinse, then return to the pot.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pepper, sausage, paprika, and salt and cook until the sausage is browned all over and cooked through—about 5 minutes, stirring to break it up.
  3. Return the pot with the cooked pasta to a burner set at medium heat. Add the cooked peppers and sausage along with the cheese sauce packet, then stir to combine.
  4. To serve, divide evenly among 4 bowls.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Kraft-Style Mac + Cheese with Cauliflower + Sweet Potato

As a kid--and still, as an adult--I was (am!) obsessed with mac and cheese.

But my kid-self wanted nothing to do with any kind of homemade mac and cheese sporting a bubbling crust.

Gross!

No, if it didn’t come out of a box, I wouldn’t go near it.

It’s been a couple of years, but there are still a lot of kids out there just like me (and maybe some adults, too).

So how do you get your kids to eat a homemade mac and cheese that’s also packed with veggies?

You make it look and taste as much like the original as possible!

The base of this sauce is pureed veggies.

There's no butter and no milk.

But there are so many hidden veggies inside, it will make your head spin.

It’s time to lose the box (...at least, sometimes)!

Kraft-Style Mac + Cheese with Cauliflower + Sweet Potato

servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about ¾ cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ medium head cauliflower, cut into large chunks, (about 1 pound or 3 cups)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled + cut into 1-inch chunks (about ½ pound or 1¼ cups)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1¼ + ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 4 ounces American cheese (6 slices)
  • 12 ounces macaroni pasta

Directions:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until tender—5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, sweet potato, vegetable stock, and the 1¼ teaspoon salt. Bring this mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender—about 20 minutes. This should give you about ¼ cup liquid along with the veggies.
  2. Place the veggie mixture in a blender and process it until it is completely smooth. Add more stock or water if there is not enough liquid to blend easily.
  3. Then transfer the mixture back to the saucepan over low heat. Add the cheddar cheese, American cheese, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt; stir until the cheese melts (depending on the saltiness of your stock and cheese you may not need this extra ½ teaspoon of salt). Add more stock if your mixture is too thick or if it thickens over time.
  4. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions. When done, drain and transfer the macaroni to the saucepan with the veggie and cheese mixture. Toss to combine and serve.

Notes:

  • You can use any combination of cheese that you like—cheddar, parmesan, fontina or provolone— though I do like to include a little American or Velveeta in my mix, as it gives the cheese sauce the right consistency.
  • This version is on the simple side; for a flavor that makes a bigger impact, I suggest stirring in some salsa or adding sautéed peppers to the mix.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Boxed Mac + Cheese Pancakes

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When I was first starting out in the world of food, I was on a radio show here in NYC.

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One of the first segments I did was on a hole-in-the-wall diner known for all sorts of crazy-delicious concoctionsone of the concoctions being mac and cheese pancakes.

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They made theirs a bit differently than I make mine.

But with both versions, you get the tangy cheese and salty bacon swimming through the pancake, which is obviously a very good thing.

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I’m basically taking a box of mac and cheese and adding it to a pancake batter.

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Not exactly my healthiest meal ever, but I couldn’t resist recreating those diner mac and cheese pancakes.

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Thank you for coming on this Hack Your Mac journey with me this week!

My purpose in reinventing boxed mac and cheese was to show you that you don’t always have to make everything from scratch for it to be delicious.

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In real life we take shortcuts, and in real life sometimes we just need to have mac and cheese pancakes for dinner.

I mean, we just need to. 😉

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Boxed Mac + Cheese Pancakes

makes: Twelve 3- to 4-inch pancakes

Ingredients:

  • One 14-ounce box of macaroni and cheese (with liquid cheese packet)
  • 4 bacon strips (about 2 to 3 ounces or ¼ cup), some reserved for a garnish
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped scallions, more for a garnish
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces), more for a garnish
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished. Stir in the cheese packet, then set aside.
  2. While the macaroni cooks, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp—6 to 7 minutes, turning once. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain, then crumble it into small pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, baking powder, and salt until they are fully combined. Then fold in the cooked macaroni along with the scallions, cheddar, and crumbled bacon.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add the butter and allow it to melt. Scoop about ⅓ cup of the macaroni and cheese mixture into the skillet and cook until both sides of the “pancake” are dark golden brown—3 to 5 minutes per side.
  5. To serve, garnish with scallions, cheddar cheese, and crumbled bacon.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac + Cheese

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Buffalo Mac and Cheesemade in minutes and good for you?!

If  you think you're dreaming, I would suggest pinching yourself! Then read on!

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I wanted to bring all the usual Buffalo chicken suspects to the table: Franks RedHot Sauce, celery, and chicken, of course.

Then to make sure you feel good about piling your plate with seconds, we'll toss in some wilted spinach, which also livens things up a bit.

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And because you already have butter in there from the mac and cheese, the hot sauce is all you need to finish off that classic Buffalo flavor.

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This is sinfully delicious, but let’s not forgetyou are eating chicken, celery, and spinach.

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So it really is a complete meal, veggies included!

Dig in, already!

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Buffalo Chicken Boxed Mac + Cheese

makes: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • One 7.25-ounce boxed mac + cheese with cheese powder (such as Kraft Macaroni + Cheese Dinner Original)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh baby spinach (about 1½ ounces)
  • 4 ounces cooked chicken, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ¾ cup finely chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • Pinch of blue cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished.
  2. Return the pasta to the same pot over medium heat, adding the butter, milk, hot sauce, and cheese powder packet, then stir all ingredients to combine.
  3. Add the spinach, chicken, and ½ cup of the celery, then stir to incorporate all ingredients and wilt the spinach.
  4. To serve, top with the remaining celery and a sprinkle of blue cheese (if desired).
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Sweet Potato Boxed Mac + Cheese

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For this hack on your mac, I really wanted to bring some veggies to the partywhile also giving some new flavors and textures to the mac and cheese.

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This is an exciting version to say the least, and it still involves almost no extra cooking!

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Throw the sweet potato in the microwave, then puree it or just mash it with a fork.

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Add in the the sage, nutmeg, cheese, and sweet potato, then mix it all up and top with pecans and cranberries.

You get a whole new flavorand seriously the only extra thing you did was put a sweet potato in the microwave!

Sweet Potato Boxed Mac + Cheese

makes: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • One 14-ounce boxed mac + cheese with liquid cheese sauce (such as Kraft Deluxe Macaroni + Cheese Dinner Original Cheddar)
  • 1 small or medium sweet potato
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage, more for a garnish
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the macaroni. When the water boils, add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions; drain when finished.
  2. While the pasta cooks, pierce the sweet potato all over with a fork. Cook the potato in the microwave on high in 2-minute increments until soft—4 to 6 minutes total. Then set the potato aside until it is cool enough to handle.
  3. Peel the sweet potato (alternatively, you can cut the potato in half and scoop out the insides) and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth; this should give you about ¾ cup of sweet potato puree. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mash the sweet potato with a fork, adding a little of the hot pasta cooking water to make it easier to mash.
  4. Return the cooked and drained pasta to the medium pot over medium heat, adding the sweet potato puree, cheese sauce packet, sage, nutmeg, and salt, then stir until fully combined.
  5. To serve, garnish with the cranberries, pecans, and additional sage.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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