Arts, Features

FreeP vs. Food at Home: Mac and Cheese

FreeP vs. Food is a recurring series, where we send FreeP staffers to food establishments in the Boston University area to try a similar item from each place. We give each place a letter rating based on the quality of the food, the service and the ambiance of the restaurant.

While we’re stuck in quarantine, FreeP editors asked the question: What’s the best homemade mac and cheese?

Annie’s Vegan Mac: Pumpkin & Sweet Potato

By Samantha Kizner

Annie’s Vegan Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese may be a good alternative for vegans or people who are lactose intolerant, but Campus Editor Samantha Kizner says it doesn’t compare to the real thing. SAMANTHA KIZNER/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

I recently set out to make a vegan mac and cheese — an admittedly odd choice of a meal — because I’m lactose intolerant. Annie’s boxed mac and cheese came to the rescue. I saw online that they had vegan mac and cheese, and it had great reviews. I went to the store, super excited to pick this up, only to find that the shelves were totally empty. Even though the only type of mac and cheese that remained was still vegan, it wasn’t really mac and cheese. Regardless, I bought, made and ate it, but I probably wouldn’t do it again.

Stupidly, I expected this to taste like real mac and cheese. It absolutely did not. The sweet potato and pumpkin flavors canceled each other out in the most confusing way possible. I was literally just eating pasta coated with a warm, orange sludge. It didn’t taste bad, but it really didn’t taste like much at all. 

Just like any Annie’s recipe, it was super easy to make. The sweet potato and cream sauce came powdered and I mixed it with unsweetened almond milk. The pasta came boxed, as always. The whole ordeal took only about 20 minutes, and it ended up looking pretty appetizing when served.

After finishing my bowl, I didn’t go back for seconds — but not for the reason you may think. If you go in ready to have your typical Annie’s Mac and Cheese experience, you’ll be gravely disappointed. If you go in looking for a healthy, dairy-free alternative to a typically warm, dairy-filled pasta meal, you just may like it.

Grade: C+

Three-Cheese Panko Baked Mac and Cheese

By Sophia Yakumithis

Blog Editor Sophia Yakumithis’ homemade panko mac and cheese, derived from her mom’s recipe, is a perfect balance of crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. SOPHIA YAKUMITHIS/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

I haven’t eaten macaroni and cheese since I was about 11 years old. 

But alas, I have Crohn’s disease, so the thought of consuming gluten or dairy makes my poor stomach — which can’t even eat something as neutral as rice without making me want to die — churn. That said,  I think it’s one of the tastiest foods on this planet and my illness doesn’t stop me from appreciating the divine right that is mac and cheese.

No one should deprive others from a good meal just because they can’t eat it themselves, and my baked, three-cheese panko mac and cheese is always the first dish I consider making when I have friends over for dinner. I got the recipe from my mom, who used to make this for special occasions. I guess I’ve always known a good thing when I see it — as a lactose intolerant kid, I could tell this was legit because of how loudly my stomach grumbled after eating a bowl of this.

When I dug into this dish, I wanted either something ultra crispy or gooey enough to eat with a spoon and extra napkins on deck. My recipe is a perfect balance of both of those elements as the three different cheeses make for a hearty inside, while the panko on the outside gives the mac and cheese a nice crunch. 

If you like a crunchy texture, putting the oven on broil for the final couple of minutes chars the panko just enough to give your mac and cheese burnt notes in the best way imaginable. But if gooey and creamy is the vibe you’re going for, taking it out of the oven a minute or so early is the way to go. 

Panko mac and cheese is a great comfort food and a major crowd pleaser, so I’d strongly recommend making this for your next dinner party or meal delivery. 

Grade: A+

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese

By Chris Larabee

Bread crumbs were an elite addition to Sports Editor Chris Larabee’s buffalo chicken mac and cheese, providing an extra crunch absent from typical pasta dishes. CHRIS LARABEE/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In this time of uncertainty, everyone is looking for ways to decompress and relieve themselves of stress. And what better way is there to do that than with mouthwatering comfort food?

In January, I had a random craving for buffalo chicken and wanted something that requires little to no effort in making. I found this recipe and made it a second time at the FreeP Super Bowl Potluck — a crowd favorite. Each time I was impressed with how easy it was to make and how great it tasted, even when I modified the recipe by using shells and normal cheddar cheese.

This time, however, a shuffling of two key ingredients slightly changed the mac and cheese. On her weekly shopping trip, my mom followed exactly the recipe’s ingredient list. The mac and cheese was still phenomenal, but using Velveeta instead of regular block cheddar made the cheese almost too creamy. A typical pasta isn’t all too different from shells, but as a connoisseur of comfort food, the devil is in the details and you don’t get the perfect mix of pasta and chicken with rotini.

Overall, the experience was enjoyable and the recipe was enough to give me a few meals to look forward to. My mom also made bread crumbs to sprinkle over top of the mac and cheese to add that extra delectable crunch. The only thing holding this back from an A+ is the Velveeta, which was just a little too overpowering for my taste. 

Simply put, this homemade mac and cheese recipe blows Kraft’s out of the water and could impress anyone at a tailgate or BBQ.

Grade: A

Quick n Easy Sharp Cheddar Mac

By Sarah Readdean

Features Editor Sarah Readdean’s quick and easy sharp cheddar mac and cheese, which she calls her go-to comfort food, incorporates carrots and peas to add some nutritional value, as well as cayenne pepper and garlic for extra flavor. SARAH READDEAN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

This simple baked mac and cheese recipe is one that’s so tasty that in ninth grade you have to buy a giant thermos so you can bring some to school for your best friend’s birthday. It’s that good and she still raves about my mom’s cheesy recipe to this day.

Incorporating frozen peas and carrots to the bake not only adds a few pops of color, but gives an almost refreshing feeling and convinces you that a nutrient or two is making its way into your system. But after shoveling down the cellentani spirals, I definitely needed two large glasses of cold water to balance out the food and feel a little better.

Even with two blocks of Vermont seriously sharp white cheddar cheese, I wanted to experiment with spicing up the recipe. I added a hint of garlic powder and a dash of cayenne pepper, but somehow, it actually ended up a bit less flavorful than my mom’s. 

Paired with a ham steak on the side, when you run the meat through the liquidy cheddar, it almost tastes like a breakfast sandwich from your favorite local cafe — a food I desperately miss in this seemingly unending quarantine. 

I give myself a pat on the back for my first try at this recipe, but no gold star for the mess I left in the kitchen. 

Topped with crushed Ritz crackers and grated parmesan cheese, this meal has long been my go-too comfort food. And most certainly my savory breakfast for the next morning.

Grade: A-

Main St. Bistro’s Pre-Cooked Baked Mac and Cheese

By Angela Yang

Main St. Bistro’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese, which City Editor Angela says is the perfect midnight meal for any college student — despite its dubious appearance and liquidy consistency. ANGELA YANG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Spin it in the microwave for four minutes and it’s ready to eat — a luxury fit for any freshman dorm room devoid of real cooking appliances.

I had grabbed the first microwaveable package of mac and cheese I saw off the shelves at the grocery store. Upon peeling the plastic film wrapper off of the tray, I was greeted by crusty mustard-yellow cheese sticking to the edge and some watery “cheese” on one side. After exiting the microwave, it didn’t look much different.

In all honesty, this didn’t taste as repulsive as it appears. But that may partly be due to it being 1:30 a.m. and me being famished. Thick, gooey lipids are the ideal midnight snack for your taste buds if you have no regard for physical health.

I’m glad it’s supposed to be baked, because I do enjoy that layer on top much better than I do the melted cheddar itself. In fact, I could only really eat a few bites of the liquefied cheese at a time before I began to tire of it. I have to admit, however, that the level of creaminess was just enough to leave a nice aftertaste and tempt me to want more.

I should also acknowledge that I have notoriously low standards for the quality of my food, so I’m pretty easily satisfied. But I genuinely believe that as a student with nothing more sophisticated than a microwave at your disposal, microwavable mac and cheese is not a meal to write off.

Grade: C+

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