Thursday, June 20, 2013

[T&T] The Kraft Mac & Cheese Deathmatch

Seriously, does someone else remember Celebrity Deathmatch?

Ah, those were the days...

It aired on MTV a dozen years ago, and I was a huge fan of the show, despite being unfamiliar with most of the American celebrities it featured.
The claynimation was pretty spiffy, and the ridiculously gruesome maimings never failed to crack me up - and this is from one who can't bear watching even the trailers of splatter movies! Celebrity Deathmatch was cartoony enough that it didn't make me sick, but the sadistic, Itchy & Scratchy-esque humor fully got through.

I miss Johnny and Nick (as well as bloodthirsty referee Mills, and Stacey Cornbread) so much! Please MTV powers-that-be, would you consider realeasing the original episodes on DVD, so that dewy-eyed nostalgics like me can bask in the memories of those politically incorrect days of yore? Thanks!

Image belongs to Kevin A. @ http://weirdkev-27.deviantart.com

Now, while waiting for my plea to be heard so that I can show your average Pok√©mon-ogling kiddo how much fun we used to have in my days, I will proceed to review two products at once, and see which one's best.


Tonight's match will see the long-standing champion and crowd favourite, Kraft's original Macaroni & Cheese ("Ask for the blue box!"), challenged by the upstart new entry, Kraft "Just pop me in the microwave, baby!" Easy Mac.




LET'S GET IT ON!




I sampled the Easy Mac first, as it seemed to be the quicker to make.




On the cup it says I have the Extreme Cheese Explosion version. To rub in the concept even further, the plastic lid proclaims enthusiastically how CHEESY the product is.
Now, I'm no native speaker so it's entirely possible that some subtle nuance got lost on me, but... well, it made me giggle. A lot.

Under the unwittingly amusing seal I found: a cup or so of teeny tiny fusilli, the cheese mix packet, and a little plastic fork (not very handy, but I can totally see how it'd be invaluable in those "30 min. lunch break" situations.)
All I had to do was add water up to the indicated level...


...microwave on the highest setting for 3 1/2 minutes, and stir the cheese mix into the cooked, wet pasta. 
And this is where I had to go Ewww - because the mix was orange. As in, marker pen orange? In its powder form, it was scary. 


Once mixed up, though - it was scarier
Don't get me wrong: I know Cheddar is supposed to be orange. I know it's because of annatto, a traditional plant-derived food colouring that is actually much healthier than most of the stuff I eat daily. 

Still. Angry orange goo on my pasta? Sorry, but... Ewww. 


I found the pasta to be quite good: not really al dente, but not mushy at all. I got it right at first try just by following the given directions, which is a huge bonus when you are at work and really have no time to play around with the cooking time and settings. 
I don't even know whether Italian and American microwaves have the same settings, which goes a long way in showing how foolproof this product is!


The infamous sauce, on the other hand, I found a tad overwhelming. 
It didn't taste chemical at all, but it was very tangy, bordering on acridity. It is the kind of sharpness I associate with cheeses like ricotta scanta, a ricotta that is deliberately left to go sour - I love it when tempered by a sweeter element (usually tomato sauce), but on its own it's a bit too much. I didn't hate it, but I can't say I was a fan either. 
All in all, I'd say I would buy this product occasionally, were it available in Italy, but I'd be sure to pick a different flavour choice. 


Now for the "blue box"...
(...and no, I don't mean the Tardis!)


According to its Wikipedia entry, the classic version has been around for ages and is considered a staple in Canada. It comes as no suprise, then, that the blurb on the back of the package harps on the "old reliable" motif:
IMPORTED FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD


Congratulations. You just picked up a box of deliciously gooey macaroni & cheese dinner. Chances are you'll be serving it to your kids but at the same time helping yourself to a spoonful or two. Don't worry, we understand. It's the same classic cheesy taste you know and love from your own childhood. So go ahead, dig in. Your kids may be the perfect age to enjoy the gooey, cheesy goodness - but remember: you were there first.
Yep it's true! It's all printed on it, down to the meaningful italics!

I suppose this goes a long way to show how different commercial communication can be from a country to another, as here in Italy, this kind of nudge nudge, wink wink intimacy would be unthinkable. Closest we ever could go would be the ads Barilla aired back in the Eighties, which were heavy on the "family tradition" motif - like, sledgehammer-heavy - and so cloyingly sweet and soppy, that their edulcorated little happy family became a sitting duck for every stand-up comedian ever since.

So much food for thought! (Hee hee, see what I'm doing here? Ah, I just kill myself at times...)

But, back to the match!

The box serves three, in theory, but I found half of its content to be barely enough for a decent serving. To be fair, though,  people in America are probably not used to have pasta as a stand-alone main course, the way we Italians do.

Despite how tiny the pasta was, I found the recommended cooking time to be not nearly sufficient.
This was a bit of a bummer, honestly. I mean, it's not that figuring out on my own how long pasta needs to boil is rocket science, but... 4 minutes off? For real?

The dehydrated cheese was not as creepy as the Easy Mac's, but still proudly orange.
I omitted the additional butter because this "experiment" already packs a lot of calories from just the carbs...



...yet the sauce still turned out deliciously creamy.  
It still had tang, but itwas much more tolerable than in the "cheesy cheesy cheesy" microwave version.



All in all, the pasta was nice, but far from memorable - and the worst part is, after scarfing down what is supposed to be almost two portions, I was still pretty hungry.
Now, I know it would be unfair to compare this with homemade pasta, as the latter packs a filling power that is just on another level. But a portion of, say, Chinese noodles or ramen soup usually leaves me fairly sated - this stuff costs thrice as much, takes more time to prepare, and the calories are more or less the same. Sorry Kraft, but it's basic economics at work here.


THE CHALLENGER WINS! 

Why?

Simply because, nasty orange alien cheese aside, the microwave-able bowl made a lot more sense to me.

- First of all: I know it's called "Mac & Cheese", but I think using fusilli in the microwave version was smarter, as they're much better for scooping up sauce than actual maccheroni.

- The instructions given for the Easy Mac were clear and the suggested cooking time was spot on. Not so with the "Blue Box."

- Weird as it may sound, the pre-portioned bowl felt more like a meal than half a box of classic M&C. I wasn't exactly full (as in, I could have eaten more), but I wasn't left really hungry either. 

- The Easy Mac is really quick to make, and what it yelds - while obviously not comparable with a dish of homemade pasta - is a fair deal when you consider it only took four minutes. The classic version took about 10 minutes, and in that time I could easily have grated and melted some fresh cheese... so I didn't really save time (or money) by buying a "kit", which kind of makes it pointless. 


So now that we have our winner, I guess all's left to say is:


GOOD FIGHT, GOOD NIGHT!

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