You know, a great way to start off any evening is with a nice package of macaroni and cheese. Kids love it. Adults love it. It has such a salty, sweet flavor that will make any of us beg to go back to our childhoods, even for just a day.
I grew up on Kraft Mac n' Cheese, or the store brand, whatever was cheaper, as most kids did and still do. One of my friends down the street had a mom (whom I still love dearly) who would not even let her think about touching the stuff because she was a purist - make it from scratch or don't make it at all. I agree with her now. But back then, no way. I wanted that creamy soft goodness right out of the box. Orange food coloring and all.
Now, I can barely think about even entertaining that idea, let alone eat mac n' cheese that isn't natural or gluten-free. I've tried a few brands, but as I have given up nearly all dairy, I just don't eat it unless I make my own non-dairy version. However, one day, while strolling down the aisle of one of my favorite natural stores, I came across a new package sitting on a shelf. Without realizing why I would even want to check it out, I flipped the little blue and yellow package around to see that not only was it gluten-free, but it was made primarily with quinoa flour.
Very intriguing. The front of the package never even alluded to this, so this little chance happening was quite welcome.
As most of you know, I love quinoa, millet, and pretty much most ancient grains that are me-friendly because they're superior in nutrition to rice or wheat. So, to find a package of hidden gem gluten-free mac n' cheese made with quinoa, well, I had to buy some.
Not an easy feat at $6.79 a bag.
I nearly choked at the seven dollar price tag, but the idea of being able to consume pasta made with quinoa and rice flour was too intriguing. I bought a bag, no doubt spurred on by the little kid in me who liked to sit outside and play with the dogs or hide in laundry baskets while Mom cooked up some pre-packaged easy feed. I could nearly smell the aroma of Kraft filling the air.
I have one little comment for the quinoa connoisseurs. For those of you who love gluten-free stuff, I know there is a company out there that makes quinoa pasta. I can hear you yelling at your computers now. My problem with that company is the other flour in the pasta is corn. I rarely eat corn. Not me-friendly.
So, the idea of quinoa and rice, that was exciting. I mean, seriously, think about the sheer nutrient factor and then add in the complete protein factor. AND I get to have mac n' cheese? It was worth breaking my no-dairy rule to just try it once.
And it was so worth it.
Hands-down, my favorite rice pasta is Tinkyada, but Gluten-Free and Fabulous is definitely pulling in close behind. The texture was perfect. I cooked it to al dente, leaving a slight chew, then added the rice milk (I know, kinda pointless, but I don't buy anything cow-related, so bear with me here), Earth Balance Soy-Free Margarine, the packaged cheese (which looked quite a bit like Kraft's), and heated them all together until they became the beloved food of my childhood. Oh, yes. It was good.
As always, when you cook rice pasta of any kind, leave it al dente when you pour out the water. The pasta will still continue to cook after the water is gone. This will make the texture just right when you get ready to eat it; not mushy or falling apart. This is true of wheat pasta too, by the way, except wheat goes gooey and overly chewy.
The other tip I have for this little gem is be patient when you add the milk, butter and cheese back into the pan with the pasta. They use cornstarch to thicken it (which was a bit of a downer for me, but millions of people will rejoice in having a great gluten-free pasta with or without corn products) and it takes a little time. It will thicken. I promise. Just be patient and attentive. Give it some love while you're waiting.
When the finished product comes out of the pan and onto your plate, it is heavenly. It smells great, the texture is just right and the sweet and salty creaminess of the cheese is everything you remember, sans all the chemicals and colorings.
For those of you craving a little extra something, add a couple rounds of sausage (uncured beef was my choice), some parsley on top and you have a slightly more grown-up version of a classic childhood favorite.
The plant used for manufacturing is dedicated gluten-free, so you can feel at ease when you eat these tiny little elbows of deliciousness and enjoy every last bite knowing that you and your children are eating better, healthier and wiser without even knowing it.
You, too, can be gluten-free and fabulous.