Recently, I saw a Facebook post about someone’s otherwise accomplished eight-year-old having trouble making macaroni and cheese. I was not surprised by this. After 30 years of making macaroni and cheese, I have issues regularly. The little people who crash at my house eat the stuff about once a week, and I have become the world’s foremost expert on every way to make it wrong. There’s a trophy and complimentary tickets to the local Museum of Cat Hoarding for being “foremost.” I suppose I would rather be “hindmost,” but there’s no consolation prize. I would always have delicious, non-ruined macaroni and cheese…that’s something, I guess. If you would like to join me in the quest to be the hindmost, please learn from my mistakes.
- Buy the wrong box of macaroni and cheese. You think they will not know the difference if you slip a batch of store-brand in the cart, and it’s half the price. Maybe you think that since you’re likely to end up scarfing the leftovers out of the pan as “lunch,” you’re entitled to a fancy flavor like White Cheddar® and you decide that the kids will be “fine with that.” Maybe you think that they really should be eating more organic foods, so you buy Whole Foods Kobe Macaroni and Brie. This is not going to go well. Kids are very brand loyal. They know what they like, and they don’t want to support competitors. What if Kraft went out of business because you got all whimsical one day? WHAT IF THAT HAPPENED?
- Buy the wrong shape of macaroni. There used to be one shape of macaroni, the tubes of pasta with no ridges. Period. Now they are shaped like all kinds of nonsense. Do you sometimes wish you could bite Dora’s head right in two? Now you can! But what if your kids don’t like Dora? Do you want them seasoning their nutritious meal with their tiny, sad tears? My kids like Annie’s. As we are about to discuss, they had a strong preference for a while toward the traditional noodle. Nothing like making a box of the cheesy, only to have Thing One stare at it and refuse to eat it because it looks like bunnies.
- Have the kids contract a violent stomach virus the day of the eating of the macaroni and cheese. This….is why we couldn’t eat the bunnies for a looooooong time. Oh. Wow. It was really bad. Cute little bunnies projectile vomited all over the house for an entire day. I can’t really blame Thing One for not wanting back on that horse right away. It was the worst stomach virus in many years (I know because I enjoyed it later that day). Quite enough to put you off your feedbag entirely, let alone the whole day-glo orange bunny thing.
- Undercook the macaroni. *crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch*
- Overcook the macaroni. I cook the macaroni a bit longer than the directions because someone in my house has been teething for the last 4 years. Cooking it for an extra minute is fine. Cooking it for an extra 10 minutes because someone had a diaper emergency that was not going to wait is not recommended. At the point where all the water in the pan has been absorbed into the noodles, you have messed up. Start over.
- Dump the macaroni into the sink. My supercool technique for draining the noodles is to hold the colander above the sinkful of dishes with one hand and pour the scalding, boiling water into the colander with the other hand. I didn’t see this technique in the colander handbook, so I think I invented it! Where’s my patent application file? Anyway, when you pour the boiling water over your hand, suppress the agonized cursing and fling the colander into the sink. Since there are dirty dishes in the sink (see above), the macaroni will no longer be sanitary. Start over.
- Drain the macaroni poorly. Yummy. Mushy noodles swimming in a lake of diluted powdered cheese sauce. “That cheese flavor is plenty strong. I think I’ll put a little water in there so it goes further.” If you had a thrifty mom, you probably drank a lot of orange juice with an extra can of water in it. That principle works almost as well for cheese sauce.
- Use margarine. Or use butter. I grew up on mac and cheese with margarine. My kids eat it with butter. It tastes WEIRD. It’s amazing how different this tastes. If you are used to one thing, the other thing will make the macaroni and cheese taste like it is quite wrong.
- Put in too much milk because you didn’t measure it. I have done this so many times. Of course I can eyeball it. Stand back, I’m a professional. *GLOMP* Crap. That is too much milk. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH well.
- Mix the powdered “cheese” in improperly. Want an appealing visual presentation? Imagine if you will, a Mickey Mouse bowl with a pile of slightly overcooked macaroni, and clumps of unmixed powdered cheese product sitting atop it. Orange, lumpy and DELICIOUS. I can only imagine what biting into a nugget of gritty, concentrated powdered cheese flavoring is like. I can only imagine this, because I spend 10 minutes picking out the unmixed bits. Can’t stand the thought of it.
- Scald the milk while trying to melt the butter on the hot burner. It takes such a dreadfully long time to make macaroni and cheese. It’s really hard to stir the noodles until the butter melts. Instead, take the empty pan, throw the butter and milk and cheese powder in, and put it back on the hot burner. Then, turn around to provide some “gentle direction” to the darling children. By the time someone is in timeout, the milk will be burnt, and the powdery cheese will have become an amalgam suitable for long term fluorescent dental repairs.
- Put things in or on it to make it taste better. Oh dear. You sprinkled actual cheese on the macaroni and cheese? It is a little known fact that you cannot put actual cheese and powdered cheese (anti-cheese) together in the same bowl without dire consequences. The reaction of cheese and anti-cheese will not only create a potentially explosive situation, but possibly creates a rift in the space-time continuum that turns your simple lunch into a 90-minute ordeal. Don’t do it. It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.
- Put things in to make it healthy and/or a “complete” meal. Did you know tuna can add a kick of nutritious protein to an easy macaroni and cheese meal? Or that broccoli can give it a vitamin-packed punch? The kids don’t. They have no idea. They don’t care. No amount of discussion will convince them that a bowl of macaroni and cheese with some sort of strange debris in it is “better” than the original formula.
- Don’t cool it off enough. “Hey kids! Here’s a bowl of steaming hot lava ready to sear your tongue to the roof of your mouth!” This is never a good way to start off lunch. My kids do this adorable double-take grimace when I burn them with hot, hot food. Bonus points for metal utensils in order to get both top and bottom of the mouth. Because of the nastiness of added water, an ice cube is not an option. I end up either putting it into the refrigerator or blowing on it. A lot. I have great lung capacity. I have sat next to my son and cooled every single spoonful after an initial burning mouthful more than once.
- Serve it with the wrong utensil or in the wrong bowl. The bowl is the bowl is the bowl. No Mickey bowl? Make something else, Mom. AND, we eat this with a spoon. Not with a fork. We did that yesterday. We are DONE with that.
- Serve it cold. At the point where the savages have been satisfied, there may be a scrim of saucy noodles left in the pan. DO NOT be tempted to eat them at this point, unless you will not have any chance to eat anything else for several hours. Cold macaroni and cheese is like the undead, zombie version of the stuff. It still sort of looks like the original, but the life has gone out of it. The only thing it can remember to do is kill. Just don’t.
- Make it from a recipe, and not from a box. This is going to be really great, kids. I am going to spend all afternoon making macaroni and cheese for dinner. I am going to use four different kinds of cheese. I am going to make a loaf of bread, and then make bread crumbs out of HOMEMADE bread. I am going to use corkscrew pasta in order to pick up as much of the delicious cheese sauce as possible. I am going to bake it in the oven for an hour, then broil those magical bread crumbs and a sprinkle of cheese on top until it looks like it belongs in a magazine. And you are going to refuse to eat it. In fact, you probably won’t even try it, because the noodles are the wrong shape, there is cheese on it, and there is no box in sight.
This is so funny because it’s all true!
Thanks, Mom. I see you are using your secret agent spy name again. 😉