Re-purposing food to enhance flavors and create a masterpiece from existing products came to me very early on in life while serving in the U.S. Army. I served in the early to mid-1980s, so the bulk of our meals on deployments were still C-rations, or basically canned meals, some of which I suspect were left over from the Vietnam War.
The military was still a little ways from perfecting the dehydrated meals that soldiers have today. I do miss the value of a P-38, though, and if you served during that time, you know what I mean.
C-rations could be improved with a little salt and the omnipresent hot sauce in every soldier’s pocket. However, learning how to combine things like turkey loaf and what was essentially Spam into something delicious, and top it off with a rich chocolate coffee concoction for a dessert became a skill I would carry well into my culinary life.
In short, I like to experiment when cooking from scratch, but really enjoy taking existing products and making them better. In this introduction, I will show you how to make my “Don’t Hate, Recreate!” Mac-N-Cheese.
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The Mac-N-Cheese dish is probably one of the most experimented-on comfort foods of all and, truth be told, a lot of it is really good. This is just another option that is quick, delicious and can be further experimented with to your own individual tastes.
I like to simplify as much as possible, so what I’m about to tell you is something any serious chef would consider to be a cardinal sin, but I begin this recreation with two family packs of Bob Evans Mac-N-Cheese. That’s the “Don’t Hate” portion of this recipe, and by all means if you want to do the pasta and cheese from scratch, go for it.
Not sure if you know how to make cheese from scratch, so even cooking pasta and dumping in a block of Velveeta cheese still wouldn’t technically be “from scratch,” so why not make it easy? Besides, it’s just the foundation of building the flavors to come, so don’t give up on me just yet.
Now, here’s what you’ll need before we get started. Your two packs of product, hot sauce, three large jalapeños, one pound of sausage, enough bacon to crumble on top, about 4 ounces of jalapeno cream cheese, about 6 ounces of sour cream and about 1 1/2 cups of roasted peanuts. Precook the sausage and bacon and crumble it. Chop your jalapeños after cleaning out the seeds and place your peanuts into a large baggie and crush them.
Bonus tip: Crushing peanuts is fun if you just pretend each one is the head of someone you don’t like.
Now, the second surprise is that we’ll start this journey on the stove. Simply dump the two packs into a large pan and let it heat up on medium high, stirring occasionally for about 7 minutes and adding hot sauce to your taste. I use about a tablespoon. OK, probably two. I like the flavor hot sauce leaves behind as a seasoning element so I use it, as well as jalapeños, in about 80 percent of what I cook.
Once the Mac-N-Cheese is heated, it will be easier to put the cream cheese into the mix. Also add the jalapeños, sour cream and sausage all at the same time and continue to stir until the cream cheese is melted and dispersed evenly.
You’ll notice the texture already beginning to thicken up nicely. Continue to let the mix heat on about medium for another few minutes.
Remove the pan from the stove and pour the contents into a glass baking pan and evenly distribute the mixture into the pan. Take your crumbled bacon and sprinkle liberally over the top, followed by your crushed peanuts ... or as I like to pretend, the crushed spirit of my enemies.
I’m kidding about that, by the way ... sort of. Anyway, I digress. Place the pan into the oven at 350 degrees and let the magic happen for about 20-25 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven, cover and let the flavors continue to mix for about another 5 minutes and serve!
Remember, there is nothing in the grocery store that you buy for convenience that can’t be improved. Don’t settle on the mundane, when with just a little effort and imagination, you don’t have to “Hate, Recreate!” You should see what I can do with a can of green beans!
Don’t Hate, Recreate Mac-N-Cheese
Total time: 45 minutes, including prep
What you need:
Two packs of Bob Evans Mac-N-Cheese
Tablespoon of hot sauce
Three large jalapeños
One pound of sausage
About 1 1/2 cups of peanuts
About 4 ounces of jalapeño cream cheese
About 6 ounces of sour cream