Of all the national food holidays, National Mac and Cheese Day is one we can really get behind.
I love Mac and cheese, so I'm all about National Mac and Cheese Day, which just happens to be Saturday, July 14. I love a good restaurant version with ten cheeses, but I also have a special place in my heart for boxed mac and cheese. More than one box is in my pantry at all times, so I have a number of tried and true tricks to spice up my mac and cheese to keep things interesting. In honor of National Mac and Cheese Day, here they are...
1. Give it a crunchy topping.
One reason so many of us love the fancy mac and cheese we get at restaurants is the crunchy, buttery topping. The good news: It's easy to replicate at home. Simply prep one box of your favorite mac and cheese, according to the instructions. In a skillet, melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter. Add in one cup of unseasoned bread crumbs or panko, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and mix with a half of a cup of grated or shredded parmesan cheese. Divide your mac and cheese into bowls and top with the toasted breadcrumbs.
2. Spice it up.
If you like a little heat, spicy jalapeño corn mac and cheese is for you. To make it, prepare one box of your favorite mac and cheese according to the instructions on the package. Cut a jalapeño pepper in half and remove the white parts and seeds. Save one half for another recipe and finely chop the other. Drain one 15 ounce can of corn, and measure out half a cup. Save the rest for another recipe. Warm the half cup of corn in the microwave for 30 seconds. Mix the corn and jalapeño into the prepared mac and cheese. For those who don’t like spice, omit the jalapeño or replace with green bell pepper.
3. Fill it with greens.
Broccoli and cheese is a classic combo, so why not add this hearty green to your mac and cheese? To make broccoli cheddar mac and cheese, prepare one box of yellow cheddar mac and cheese as the package instructs. Chop up half a head of broccoli into small florets and put in a microwave safe bowl. Add two tablespoons of water and cover the bowl with a microwave safe plate. Microwave on high for two minutes until tender. Add the broccoli to the prepared mac and cheese along with a half of a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Mix to combine.
4. Add a punch of protein.
Mac and cheese is delicious, but it doesn’t have much protein on its own. A solution: stir in sausage and peppers. To make sausage and peppers mac and cheese, prepare one box of four cheese mac and cheese per the instructions on the box. Cut a red bell pepper in half and remove the pith and seeds. Save one half for another recipe and chop the other. Cut a yellow onion in quarters and save three quarters for another recipe. Chop the fourth quarter. Heat a skillet to medium and add in one tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add in the pepper and onion. Cook until everything has softened and the onion is translucent. Transfer the veggies to the mac and cheese. In the same skillet add 8 ounces of sweet or spicy Italian sausage and cook until browned and any large chunks are no longer pink in the center. Add sausage to the mac and cheese and veggies. Mix to combine.
5. Put a spinach and artichoke spin on it.
Spinach and artichoke dip is a classic flavor combo that you can easily replicate in your pasta with a box of white cheddar mac and a handful of other ingredients. To make it, prepare one box of white cheddar mac and cheese according to the package directions. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add in one tablespoon of olive oil. Add one chopped clove of garlic and cook until fragrant. Add in 1 cup of spinach and cook until wilted and reduced in size. Chop one cup canned artichoke hearts and add to spinach mixture. Cook for one more minute or until artichoke hearts are warmed. Add mixture to mac and cheese. Add in half of a cup shredded mozzarella cheese. Mix to combine.