By Suzy Gruyere
My birthday was last week, and as you might imagine, I was given numerous macaroni and cheese related gifts. Sort of like when I was ten and expressed the slightest interest in unicorns, and then was given unicorn stuff for every gift-giving occasion for the next twelve years. Hey, at least I don’t have to dust mac and cheese.
Among the birthday gift cookbooks is this odd little tome, 101 Things To Do With Mac & Cheese by Toni Patrick. Every one of the 101 recipes calls for a box of macaroni and cheese – yes, the Dreaded Blue Box! Patrick cheats on a few recipes by only using the noodles, but the vast majority also use the cheez powder packet along with fresh ingredients, sometimes even including actual cheese.
I flipped through the cookbook quickly, expecting to curl my lip in disgust approximately 99 times, but I must admit that I dogeared at least a dozen recipes to try ASAP – sounds like it’s time for a Costco run to procure the giant brick o’ Blue Boxes. And honestly, after the holiday orgy of cooking and spending, I tend toward low-budget eating in January anyway, so this book will help add some variety to my self-imposed program of moderation. The recipes include soups, mac salads and hot macs of the stovetop and casserole variety, as well as a few surprises. The obvious enhancements are all here – bacon, pesto, breadcrumbs – and there are some unexpected flavor profiles in the mix too – the ones that spring to mind are curry powder and, I kid you not, Dr Pepper.
I decided to start with the oddest recipe, Macaroni Cake. Yup. A mac and cheese dessert. To be fair, it’s not a traditional cake in that it does not contain any flour or leavening. It’s more like a crustless macaroni pie. It actually reminded me of noodle kugel except that the cheez powder made it fluorescent orange.
Adapted from 101 Things To Do With Mac & Cheese by Toni Patrick
1 box macaroni and cheese mix
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon anise extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
8 oz Ricotta cheese**
**Note: This photo depicts an error, so don’t be misled. I dumped the entire 15 oz tub of Ricotta into the bowl before realizing my mistake. That’s why I made a second Macaroni Cake immediately – I already had half a pound of spare Ricotta that had traces of egg on it. Good thing I liked this dish! Also, the math whizzes reading this will note that a 15 oz tub of Ricotta could, at best, be split into two 7.5 oz portions. Relax, it’ll work fine.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or butter a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.
Boil macaroni in lightly salted water for about 5 minutes, until pasta is al dente. Drain.
Beat remaining ingredients, including the packet of cheez powder, until blended.
Place cooked macaroni in prepared baking dish and pour egg mixture over pasta, making sure the noodles are completely covered.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Allow cake to cool before serving.