Like many impecunious and perpetually short on time programmers of my generation, I made and ate many meals from the “blue box”—Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner—which, with the addition of a little bit of milk, butter, and some water to boil the noodles, would serve up a perfectly serviceable and tasty dish in a little more than ten minutes. The box contained the noodles and powdered cheddar cheese, which melted instantly when stirred into the cooked noodles, ready to eat. What’s more, all you had to clean up afterward was the noodle pan, the dish you ate it from, and a spoon. Then, back to programming!
This was a staple of my diet all the time I lived in the U.S., even after I advanced to more ambitious cooking projects, some of which you will find at FourmiFood. In the 1980s, I would even indulge in a frozen, microwaveable version of the same dinner, which was even faster, required no additional ingredients, and could be eaten out of the cardboard tray in which it was sold. (As far as I can tell, this product has since been discontinued.) I quickly figured out that the secret to enhancing the somewhat bland flavour of the standard product was adding outrageous amounts of mustard and Worcestershire sauce as well as a bit of salt and pepper, all of which could be done at the table, to taste. I never called it “Kraft Programmer Chow” at the time, but I should have.
From time to time, I was in the mood for something more fancy, and so developed a recipe using canned condensed cream of mushroom soup, elbow macaroni, grated cheddar cheese, butter, sliced mushrooms, and the mainstay seasonings. After I moved to Switzerland, where Programmer Chow is, sadly, unavailable, home-made was the only option, and so this recipe, with much the same flavour and consistency as the venerable blue box, has become a mainstay. I call it…
Collect the ingredients. The quantities given make around four generously-sized servings.
- 500 grams elbow macaroni
- 400 grams cheddar cheese
- 300 grams canned condensed cream of mushroom soup
- 200 grams (≈125 grams drained) sliced button mushrooms
- 2 tbsp (≈35 grams) butter
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp mild mustard
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
I use “tbsp” (tablespoon) to mean 15 ml. None of these quantities needs to be exact, and you can add mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper at the table as you wish.
I normally use medium-sized elbow macaroni, but feel free to substitute any kind of pasta you prefer. When using other pasta, keep the weight constant, as the density of pasta varies with the shape and volume differs accordingly. Cheddar cheese comes in a multitude of varieties: mild, sharp, young, aged, smooth, crumbly, white, and orange. (The colour of orange cheddar is due to the addition of colouring agents, usually annatto seeds. This is purely a matter of tradition and customer expectations and makes little or no difference in taste. The cheddar I used in this example lacks this colouring and is the natural white colour from the milk.) If you’d like more mushrooms, double the quantity and if you prefer to forgo fungus, eschew them entirely.