Food vs. Food: Boxed Mac and Cheese

For this battle, the American standard, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, was pitted against Back to Nature's (BTN) Crazy Bugs Macaroni and cheese. BTN has no artificial preservatives or flavor, and can that really make a better boxed mac and cheese? First let me admit. I don't like boxed mac and cheese. I just hate the powdered cheese flavor, preferring actual cheese instead. So, this is the first time I have ever made boxed Mac and Cheese in my adult life (I used to make it for kids I babysat in High School).

First, let's compare the prep. BTN noodles took twice as long to cook, making this a less instant meal, one of the appeals of boxed mac and cheese. For making the sauce, I used skim milk for both since that is what I had. But the biggest difference in the prep is that BTN calls for 1T butter while Kraft called for 4T (again, I used butter for both even though Kraft called for margarine). So, there is no clear winner here, Kraft cooks much faster, but has way more fat making this a dead heat.

Next, noodle taste. I tried the noodles before they were coated in sauce and they were like night and day. BTN was nice an firm, the way I like pasta. Kraft was thin and mushy, definitely not a good mouth feel. Here, I am definitely going to give it to BTN.

Finally, we have the cheese sauce. Personally, neither of them tasted like cheese to me and I did not really like either of them. I especially hated the yellow color of the Kraft. It is just so creapy to me. So, I guess I will give this one to BTN since it was not an unnatural color.

In short, I actually ate the BTN with dinner and had left overs for lunch later that week. I never touched the Kraft again. I just could not get over the yellow color and mushy texture. So, let's hear it for the winner! Back to Nature! Coming up soon, homemade mac and cheese. The only mac and cheese for me.


Compare Foods

I have been interested in Compare Foods off Roxboro Rd for a while, but have never actually shopped there. All I knew was it was a grocery store with good prices and my only experience with that kind of establishment was Aldi's. Aldi's was crowded, small and pallets of food made up the isles. I was not really looking forward to repeating the experience, but when I made it out to Mami Nora's, I was convinced I needed to give it a chance, if only for to see how the massive size of it was organized.

This week they had collard greens on sale (3lb/$0.99) and I just could not resist. As we entered, I was shocked. It was totally not what I expected, definitely not an Aldi's. I felt a little out of place as everyone there was Hispanic and speaking Spanish (something to put on my to-do list) but then the produce section caught my eye. They had the largest variety of produce and it's quality was second only to the farmers market (from my experience). The fresh cheeses were practically irresistible (if only I had not just bought so much at Costco) and the selection of chorizo (drool), I may never have need to go to Whole Foods again (chorizo being one of the few things I buy there.)

The other thing I noticed about the store was that most of the people shopping there were following the suggestion of all the nutritionist I have ever herd. They were shopping the perimeter. We just had to look at all the frozen food treats, if you ever need fruit pulp of any kind, you now know where to go. I see popsicles in my summer future! But I think we were one of the only ones on the frozen food isle. Anyway, it is definitely my new favorite places to shop for groceries. Time to increase my Hispanic recipe repertoire.


Babyback Ribs: Heaven on a Plate

I don't think food can get much better than ribs. Falling off the bone, tender meat, glazed with a sweet sticky sauce, it just makes me swoon. The guys I work with are always keeping me informed of the rib sales, so last time they were on sale, I got us a rack and they have been sitting in the freezer calling to me.

I was out of the rib rub they gave me, so I turned to "The Joy of Cooking" for inspiration. This is what I came up with:

Rib Rub
1/4 cup Chili powder
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup pepper
2 T salt
2 T cayenne powder
2 T cumin
1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix it all together and sprinkle liberally onto ribs and let sit in fridge a while to marinate (I did 2 hours, but if I had been more organized I would have started them the night before so they could sit longer.) I used less salt than called for in the original recipe since the ribs I bought were brined.

Wrap the ribs tightly in foil and bake in a 225 degree oven for 3-4 hours. Add a can of beer (although the original recipe called for a cup of apple juice) and bake for another hour. Using the drippings from the foil pouch, make a sauce to coat the ribs with. (Fire up your grill before starting this so it will be waiting for you.)

Saute a clove of garlic in a Tbsp of olive oil. Add the drippings from the foil pouch and bring to a boil. Add a Tbsp of tomato paste and honey or brown sugar to taste. Allow the sauce to boil and reduce about 5-10 minutes.

Baste ribs with sauce and put on grill, turning every couple of minutes continuing to baste after each turn. I usually apply sauce to each side 2-3 times, allowing the ribs to blacken slightly.

Serve with sauce on the side.


Warm Bacon Salad Dressing

I am not a fan of cold foods and never have been. I never liked salads until I came across the spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. It made me realize what all salads had been missing up to that point in my life. Now I make my own version of the warm bacon dressing as my go-to dressing when ever I have salad greens to eat up without taco meat to top it with (now that is another blog). It is super simple, super quick and very tasty, and it makes eating salad greens not just bearable for me but enjoyable.

For this salad dressing, I use precooked bacon. I love having cooked bacon in the freezer on hand at all times and I highly recommend it. Just take a pack, spread it out on a baking sheet and cook at 375 on the top rack of the oven until done (about 15-20 minutes), drain, bag and freeze. Now you have instant BLT, grilled cheese with bacon and breakfast sandwiches. Just watch out; it is dangerous work handling all that freshly cooked bacon at once and I suggest doing it on a full stomach.

Warm Bacon Salad Dressing (makes 2-3 servings)
1-2 strips cooked bacon
2 T olive oil
2 T honey
2-3 T balsamic vinegar
pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in small nonstick pan and heat bacon through in oil. Add honey to pan and when gooey and bubbly turn down heat and deglaze pan with balsamic vinegar. Adjust amounts of vinegar and honey to suit your taste and add pepper as desired.

Mami Nora's

Tonight, I ventured over to Mami Nora's, a new Peruvian chicken rotisserie located off Roxboro by the Compare Foods. I got takeout, 1/4 chicken, 2 sides, a roll and sauces for just over $5. Not only was it good, but it was a bargain for someone on a budget. And much tastier than that other rotisserie chicken place.

For my sides, I got the chicken soup and plantains. They were both good but I would go back just to get the soup. The soup was nicely seasoned and a good change of pace from your normal chicken and rice soup. The main event, aka chicken, was nicely prepared. I liked that it did not taste like your normal Costco/grocery store prepared chicken. I will definitely be going back again.