Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.
Anybody who says they’re too old for boxed macaroni and cheese is doubly lying to you. First of all, because you never outgrow boxed macaroni and cheese. Secondly, that person—who is lying, again—probably had a box of Annie’s white cheddar shells last damn night. Everybody loves boxed mac and cheese. Fight me.
Anyway, while we certainly would never be caught dead proclaiming that there is anything unsatisfactory about boxed mac and cheese, we assert that there are always plenty of ways to make an enjoyable experience even better. How do you improve upon perfection? We’ve got a few suggestions:
1. Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
This one is simple and straight-forward and will jazz up any brand or style of boxed mac and cheese you’ve got, but if you’re willing to experiment with a parmesan flavor, you’re essentially creating a low-budget cacio e pepe. (NO ONE TELL ITALY I SAID THAT.)
2. Finely Chopped White Onion and Buttery Herbed Breadcrumbs
Turn your Kraft elbow macaroni into a gratin, by mixing in some finely chopped and sautéed white onion, sprinkling some breadcrumbs toasted with butter and minced parsley, then sliding a tiny casserole dish full of it under the broiler for a few minutes.
3. The Hot Sauce of Your Choice
Again, no need to overcomplicate things if you don’t want to! But stirring in a few tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce while you’re finishing up with the rehydrating-the-cheese-powder step of the cooking process will spice things up just enough.
4. Taco-Seasoned Ground Beef and Sour Cream
Instead of spooning it into taco shells or tortillas, mix some well-seasoned ground beef into your mac and cheese and dollop with a dab of sour cream and chopped cilantro.
5. Chopped Fresh Tomatoes and Peas with Tuna
This harkens back to a style of casserole recipe making of a bygone era, but once you know, you know. Drain and shred bits of canned tuna, then toss together with your preferred mac and cheese and some diced tomatoes and frozen peas for a meal that might sound like it was designed for a six year-old’s sensibilities, but is nevertheless an enduring combo.
6. Steamed Broccoli, Extra Cheddar, and Diced Ham
Broccoli, ham, and cheddar make an undeniably solid trio of flavors. If you’re adding extra shredded cheddar cheese, you may also need to add a bit more milk or cream than usual to help it melt properly.
7. Bacon and Chives
Bacon in mac and cheese seems like a no-brainer, right? Crumble a few slices of cooked bacon into your finished product with some finely chopped chives for a loaded baked potato effect.
8. Mushrooms, Spinach, and Ricotta
We’re getting really swanky here, we know, but just give us a chance. If you saute your ‘shrooms and greens up before folding them into some cheesy shells with a few spoonfuls of ricotta cheese, you’ve got a verifiable Treat Yo Self type mac and cheese situation for a night when you’re feeling a little extra.
9. Pulled Chicken, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, Cream Cheese
Like a Buffalo chicken wing dip, but with noodles. (Hell, eat this as a dip, too. Dig in with some tortilla chips and have a great time.)
10. Bread It and Fry It
Form your cooked mac and cheese into bite-sized balls, roll them in toasty bread crumbs, then drop them into oil deep enough to fry them. Serve them up for a cheeky little party appetizer.