cheap eats / weeknight favorite / fool me fancy mac and cheese

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It’s the end of the month. (Where the bloody heck did July go?!) Which means the bank account is dwindling and the monthly budget is looking tight. “Budget” is one of those adult words that wasn’t previously in my vocabulary as a non-adult. Once I got a job and a mortgage and bills and married and “oh look! pretty clothes!” it became a very common vocab word at our house. And then you factor in things like health insurance and trying to exercise and working on the weekends and what the heck is all this about?! None of those things make you an adult, but maybe added together you get adult-like responsibilities, so the title of “adult” is sort of forced on you with no option to abdicate.

Which means sometimes we have to get creative with the meals that we eat and how much money we spend buying food. In a perfect world, we spend the same amount of money on food each week. But, at the beginning of the month, after everybody has gotten paid and the monthly budget slate wiped clean, inevitably the glamorous lure of expensive home cooked meals is like a siren’s call that we (and by we, I mean me) cannot seem to resist. Buy the fancy cheese! Get that bottle of wine! Grab that bacon! You’ve got plenty of money! And then poof! You look up and there are 8 days left in the month and you’ve got enough money for 4. It happens, guys. Real life.

but for real

but for real

(Don’t worry mom, we’re fine. Nobody is going hungry around here.)

This recipe isn’t really a recipe. It’s more like three things you toss in a pot that are cheap-ish and not terrible for you. That’s how you know you’ve arrived in adult world.

cooked pasta

cooked pasta

I love it when we eat this because it’s fast, easy, cheap and a great way to stretch a few basic ingredients into a meal. Mac ‘n cheese and roasted broccoli are two of my favorite foods, and the beef adds some extra protein and the flavors just work really well for me. I ate this a lot in my tiny and fabulously cheap apartment in college, so it has a nostalgia factor too. It’s one of the only times part of our dinner comes out of a box, because I’m normally averse to processed and boxed food for dinner. Which honestly, I’m sure I need to chill out about. It’s got grass fed beef and organic broccoli in it for goodness sakes.

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There are a few other ingredients, kitchen staples like olive oil or salt that I don’t include with prices, because we try to only buy those every few weeks, and we buy them in bulk, so we always have them on hand.

Fool Me Fancy Mac and Cheese:

Serves two in abundance, four with restraint

1 box of Annie’s mac and cheese ($1.00 at my local Kroger)

1/2 pound of ground meat (a sweet farmer family at our famer’s market sells grass-fed beef for five.fifty.a.pound.!! so $2.25)

3ish cups roasted broccoli (about $3.00+/-, depending on how much broccoli you want)

1/4 cup whole milk

a few glugs of olive oil

extra freshly grated cheese, like parmesan or cheddar

Turn on the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Chop the broccoli into bite sized pieces. Toss with olive oil, kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast in the pre-heated oven for about 21 minutes, stirring every 7 minutes, until the broccoli is tender and brown and crispy on the edges.  

While the broccoli is roasting, brown your meat in a pan on the stove. Drain of any excess oil if needed and set aside.

Once your water is boiling, cook the Mac and Cheese according to the instructions on the box. After draining the pasta, add 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil to the pan. Whisk 1/4 cup of milk with the cheese from the pasta, then stir into the pasta. Stir in the cooked meat and roasted broccoli. I like to add a little extra grated cheese on top, but that’s up to you.

Serve immediately!

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