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Valentine’s Day Food Security Special: Hold the Pink Kraft Dinner, Serve Up Comfort Food

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Valentine’s Day Food Security Special: Hold the Pink Kraft Dinner, Serve Up Comfort Food

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By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

While compiling today’s Links, I stumbled upon a Leite’s Culinaria piece about Kraft’s launch of a pink-tinged Valentine- themed version of its popular mac ’n cheese – aka Kraft dinner, Kraft Introduces…Pink Mac and Cheese?

I’ve never much liked the original version of the stuff, although I was served up more than my fair share during my ski bum winters, spent in Whistler, British Columbia, where it was ubiquitous. Leite’s Culinaria notes “in Canada, where the gooey, cheesy staple known as Kraft Dinner (KD) is considered almost as sacred as poutine and butter tarts and defiling KD is tantamount to an unpatriotic act.” As with many so-called convenience foods, the convenience gained to me is never worth what’s lost in taste and nutrition.

But candy-flavored Kraft Dinner is apparently a bridge too far. As per Leite’s Culinaria:

No more noodling on what gift to buy,” stated the company in a press release. “There is no better way to show your love this Valentine’s Day than saying ‘you’re the mac to my cheese.’”

Uh. Maybe. Or you could just give them a box of spiders.

Kraft has been expanding its boxed cheesy macaroni line for years, but they’ve only recently gotten into the more unusual flavors. “After our success with Pumpkin Spice Kraft Mac & Cheese in the fall, we had our eye on what to do next,” explained Martina Davis, brand manager at Kraft Heinz. “We’re always up for a challenge, so for Valentine’s Day we thought it would be fun to change the color AND taste of classic Mac & Cheese by turning it pink and adding a bit of sweet candy flavor to celebrate the holiday.”

Kraft attempted to create a buzz for the new product – which has yet to be generally released – and was instead only available via a contest,

As NBC 5 Chicago elaborates, Kraft Launches Pink Mac and Cheese for Valentine’s Day That Tastes Like … Candy?:

On Wednesday, Kraft-Heinz announced a contest to give out free “kits” of its latest, limited-time mac and cheese. The box of Original Mac & Cheese will be joined by a packet of pink, candy-flavored powder to mix into one’s cheesy dinner. According to the brand, the mix will turn the noodles a bright magenta color, rather than that familiar orange.

So, what makes the powder pink? Is it crushed-up conversation hearts? Is it a special dust from Cupid’s arrow? Actually, according to a Kraft-Heinz spokesperson, the vibrant pink hue comes from beetroot and carrot concentrates. As for what makes it tastes like candy, the extra packet of powder contains fructose, natural flavors and vanilla extract, they said.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of anything that would make Kraft dinner worse – which, to be fair, I didn’t much like anyway – than adding vanilla, sugar, and candy flavoring. But maybe that’s just me.

COVID-19 and Cooking

As I’ve posted about often during the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically increased food insecurity, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world. But at the same time, lockdowns, social isolation, and closed restaurants have led many to up their cooking game. Whether out of necessity, boredom, curiosity, or a little of each, is not entirely clear.

Myself included. I’ve always enjoyed thinking about and preparing food and when I cook or bake, it’s from scratch. Nothing comes pre-made from a box although I do have well-stocked spice shelves and a larder. And I’m always adding a pinch of this or a dash of that. But it’s my pinch. My dash. My creation. My comfort food.

A brief pause as I grab a light breakfast – some coffee and  a blueberry muffin from a batch I made a couple of weeks ago and froze. The advantage of making one’s own is that mine are modest in size and to our taste. I often reduce the sugar – as I did with the linked recipe and left the sugar off of the top – not necessary.

Jerri-Lynn here: Back to my post. Later today, that piece about Kraft mac ’n cheese will prompt me to whip up my own version for lunch. Mine’s nothing special and starts with a basic béchamel sauce. Tamasin-Day Lewis has a fine version in her Kitchen Bible – to which I was unable to find a link. There’s no great secret to mac ’n cheese other than to use good cheese. I sometimes use cheddar, sometime gruyere. And I’ve experimented with many other cheeses over the years. I use about 6 oz of cheese for a UK pint of béchamel (or to taste) and one pound of macaroni. At the moment we have a surfeit of cheddar, so I’ll likely use that, and finish with some freshly-grated parmesan on top, which I’ll mix with some butter and perhaps some bread crumbs to make a browned topping.

Being more or less locked down and isolated with my husband in New York, there are some things I’ve been doing to up my cooking game. One New Year’s resolution: 2021 would be the year I would learn to make fresh pasta. First step has been to make potato gnocchi. This was much easier than I expected. Next step: sheets of rolled out pasta. Finally, stuffed pasta. I’ve never made ravioli, but I’m of Polish/Lithuanian descent on my mother’s side, so I’ve often made pierogi, and I imagine the procedure is similar.

Another project: Austrian (Hungarian) baked goods. I’ve not got very far with this goal, but as you’ll see below, many Austrian bakers would not be surprised by the use of ground almonds in the flourless lemon cake I just made a couple of days ago.

And finally, fermented and preserved foods. I typically eat lots of yoghurt and when I’m in India, achaar and chutneys, but  I’ve been trying to eat still more fermented foods. So, I bought Fermentation, number 18 in the excellent series of River Cottage handbooks on various aspects of cooking, baking, or preserving food.  On my dining room table right now, several fermentation – aka science –  projects are currently in progress. A ginger starter – for ginger beer – thrilled me last night when I heard the ginger paste hissing and crackling, exactly as the instructions promised me it would.

In progress: red cabbage sauerkraut (with juniper berries); fennel and apple kim chi; cherry tomato bombs (with lots of garlic, and chilli peppers), and kale kraut. Next up: I’ll tackle the large and alien-looking celeriac that’s currently lurking on the kitchen counter. This will be fermented with buttermilk, to make a preserved version of a classic celeriac remoulade.

Also on the go is some beetroot ferment with garam masala, taken from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in the Guardian. While I have major reservations about many aspects of that paper’s overall journalism, I’m a longstanding fan of their food pages. Nigel Slater’s writing and recipes have been a source of great pleasure for quite some time.

Tonight I think the red cabbage sauerkraut will be ready to try and I have some good frankfurters that I bought from a butcher a little while ago that I’ll take out of the freezer. So dinner will be frankfurters, with my kraut, some German mustard, on rolls I’ll bake this afternoon. Hot dogs always remind me of my father, who loved them slathered with mustard and loaded with kraut. And hot dogs will be a nice contrast to last night’s meal: chicken tagine with oodles of vegetables: onions, fennel, carrots, potato, butternut squash, and garbanzo beans. We ate it with couscous. There were lots of leftovers, but none will go to waste and I’m sure we’ll enjoy eating them much more on Monday rather than back-to-back to last night’s meal. There’ll probably be enough for a lunch sometime during the week.

The COVID crisis has prodded many to turn to bread baking. I’ve been making my own bread for several years now, spurred by Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe, which totally transformed my approach to bread. I usually make the whole-wheat version, and occasionally, the olive bread (to which I also add a whole head of chopped roasted garlic, and some chopped fresh rosemary). I’ve also taken to making baguettes, which in the short form I make them, are perfect hot dog rolls if chopped in two. The small addition I’ve made is to dust them with everything bagel seasoning before baking. In the last month or so, my husband has become the house bread baker.

For dessert tonight, we’ll have some Meyer lemon cake I made on Friday, a variation of Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake riff on Claudia Roden’s classic orange cake. This cake tastes better a day or two after the day on which it’s baked. Nigella’s recipe provides weights for the citrus, and includes a lemon option. If you don’t know Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food – which I recently bought – it’s magisterial, and weaves history, scholarship, recipes, and much more. A wonderful book for anyone who likes to eat, cook, or think about food. What’s unique about this cake is that you boil up the whole citrus fruit – skin, pith, and pulp – for a couple of hours. Which somehow draws out the bitterness. After the fruit cools, you throw the entire fruit in a food processor and mix the resulting pulp with eggs and ground almonds – no flour. No dairy. The result is a dense moist cake that in texture is somewhere between a cake and a pudding – the latter word used in its American sense, rather than in the English, where it would simply mean dessert.

Anyway, because it is Valentine’s Day, I will dress the cake up a bit, serving it with some crushed blueberries, perhaps sweetened or with a touch of balsamic vinegar – and some crème fraîche, which I made by souring heavy cream with a bit of buttermilk. I’ll taste and decide. I prefer the slightly tangy taste crème fraîche to sweetened whip cream with most sweets. When soured this way, the cream keeps longer.

The crushed blueberries are of necessity. I was baffled the other morning while unloading the dishwasher to find a plastic blueberry clamshell in the dishwasher’s top rack.

Then I looked down on the machine’s open door to find that the clamshell had obviously taken a swan dive off the counter while I was  stacking the unloaded dishes in the cabinet, then opened and deposited the blueberries onto the door. So, I collected the berries, rinsed them off, and tasted carefully to make sure I couldn’t detect any soupçon of Cascade. None, thankfully, but the berries were a bit beaten up. So ‘crushed blueberries’ it will have to be.

I may have gone on a bit with the food porn, and for that, dear readers, I ask your indulgence. But it is Valentine’s Day, which many celebrate with special meals or foods.

And there is a point to these meanderings: which is in the time of COVID, all of us have been forced to be more self-sufficient. Food insecurity is increasing and alas, I fear is only likely to worsen – as the end of the pandemic isn’t yet apparent, at least for those of us in hunkered down in much of Europe or the U.S. I’ve written before about increasing food security by growing one’s own food. Expanding my cooking repertoire and learning ways to ferment and preserve food also improves my food security. With the added benefit of knowing exactly what goes into any food that I prepare.

Comfort food to me never comes out of a box. Instead, it’s something I make, using my own hands, and which I hope provides comfort not only to me, but to anyone who dines at my table.

I now turn the floor over to you, dear readers: what’s on your Valentine’s Day menu?

Kraft dinner, anyone?

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