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Comfort Cooking Corner: Cheap & Easy Mac’n’Cheese

Mac’n’Cheese is a staple comfort food because of its simplicity and deliciousness. Some people just add cheese to cooked pasta. Others go the extra mile and make a rue – a cooked starch and fat mixture that thickens milk into a cheesy sauce. But what about people who want the creaminess of rue with the ease of cheese in pasta? The answer is American cheese. This processed cheese is the perfect ingredient to making an easy mac’n’cheese.


Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large pot
  • Enough water to fill the pot ⅔ of the way up
  • Pasta – no more than 1 bag/box of dry noodles
  • Salt – about 3 tablespoons
  • American Cheese – 1-5 slices
  • Ground turmeric – ¼-½ teaspoons
  • Milk, cream, or half&half – 3 tablespoons to ¼ cup
    • This can be substituted with literally any liquid. For a non-dairy substitute, I recommend oat milk. It has a nutty flavor and thicker texture that mirrors milk really well in recipes like this!


This makes a varied number of servings depending on how much pasta you choose to use. The more pasta, the more of the other ingredients. For example, if you use a whole bag/box of pasta, 5 slices of American cheese, and ¼ cup of liquid, that’s usually about 8 servings. 


Once you have your ingredients, here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Combine the salt and water in your pot. Pro tip about pasta-to-water ratios: You really only need enough water to cover the pasta and then 2 more inches above that. You can use more water (as the package will probably tell you to), but that would mostly prevent the pasta from soaking up too much water and sticking if you’re not paying attention.
  2. Get that water to boil! I oftentimes put my burner on high until the water boils and then turn it down once I’m ready to add more ingredients.
  3. Carefully add in your pasta. Pro tip about putting stuff in hot liquids: Don’t drop it in! Dropping it will cause the liquid to splatter, making it more likely to burn you. Instead, carefully pour in your ingredients while getting as close to the liquid as possible. This creates a much smaller splatter that’s easily controlled.
  4. Boil your pasta for the recommended time on the package. If you’re picky like me, try adding 2 minutes to that time for a softer noodle.
  5. Once it’s cooked to your desired tenderness, drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  6. With the burner on super low, add your milk, cream, or half&half.
  7. Now add your cheese. You should only need 1 slice to thicken the whole pot, but for that extra cheesiness, a few slices are great. You can even just use one slice and add cheddar or another yellow cheese if you want a stronger cheese flavor.
  8. Sprinkle that turmeric on the top!
  9. Mix it up! This may seem weird, but mix for a few minutes off the burner once the cheese has melted. (I’ll explain why below!)
  10. Serve with your favorite veggies. I personally like mac’n’cheese with broccoli or peas!

There are two active ingredients in this dish:

  • Turmeric: This is my secret ingredient for getting closer to that vibrant Kraft color. It also adds a little bit of flavor and can help support your immune system! For even more immune system support and an extra burst of flavor, try adding some (to taste or 1 teaspoon) garlic powder!
  • American cheese: Processed cheese uses emulsifiers to create that even, almost rubbery consistency. These emulsifiers are what thickens the added liquid. For an even thicker mac’n’cheese, you can even reserve a bit of the pasta water which is full of starch!

Bon Appetit!

Annika G.R. Bunney is an interdisciplinary creator focusing on traditional writing, nature-based creations, and assorted textual pieces. She is a second-year in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington, Bothell. Her ever-evolving work draws on classic literature, folklore, and mass media. When not working on academics, she can be found taking care of her many cats and playing with her rescue dog. She also loves wandering in the outdoors, curling up with a good book, or playing video games.
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