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10 Creative Ways to Spice Up Your Mac & Cheese

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Macaroni and cheese is an American classic and a college student staple—but the commercially available orange powdered stuff can be questionable in both ingredients and taste. When you’re ready to take a step beyond the blue box, try out these ideas to give your mac some more zest.

1. CLASSIC BAKED

If you’ve only ever had mac and cheese from a box, homemade baked macaroni is a revelation. The classic recipe is a simple bechamel sauce: butter and flour cooked together with milk to create a thick sauce that simply needs shredded cheese to be perfect on elbow noodles. This macaroni is good as is, but absolutely wonderful baked with breadcrumbs on top.

2. STUFFED OR TOPPED

It’s certainly extravagant, but also delicious, to take macaroni and cheese and add it to other classic foods. Pizza, for example, or cheeseburgers, and even grilled cheese are all improved by mac and cheese, and that’s only the beginning.

3. BACON AND TOMATO

Bacon is a pretty standard addition to macaroni and cheese, but adding tomatoes makes the dish reminiscent of a BLT—another American classic.

4. SRIRACHA

For those spice fans, adding Sriracha or another hot sauce gives creamy macaroni and cheese more bite. If you enjoy sweating your way through dinner, this variation is definitely the way to go.

5. SPINACH ARTICHOKE

The classic dip is delicious on pita points or baguette, but this dish takes it beyond an appetizer. Spinach artichoke dip is already creamy and baked with a crumb topping, so adding macaroni noodles is basically a no-brainer. And a delicious one at that!

6. LOBSTER

If you’re looking for a classier version of the childhood staple, look no further than lobster mac and cheese. Expensive seafood might not seem like the most logical choice for macaroni, but the cheesy sauce and lobster are a match made in heaven.

7. CHILI MAC

This might stretch the boundaries of the definition of macaroni and cheese, but adding chili spices, ground beef, beans, and corn makes macaroni both delicious and filling. This variation is a perfect easy dinner, especially when you need to make a meal of simple pantry staples.

8. BUFFALO CHICKEN

Another classic combination, buffalo sauce and chicken make a great match with cheesy sauce and noodles. Buffalo is everywhere now, from wings to dips to salads, so why not add it to your mac?

9. VEGAN

While vegans avoid the butter, milk, and cheese that are generally components of macaroni and cheese, vegan versions do exist. Soaked cashews provide creaminess, and nutritional yeast gives a cheesy flavor that apparently closely mirrors the original dish.

10. DESSERT

This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Dessert macaroni and cheese exists, and you can make it. Noodle kugel paved the way for noodles in dessert, but a sweet bechamel sauce makes this dessert version of mac and cheese a distinct culinary innovation.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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