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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Annie's Creamy Deluxe Macaroni & Cheese

Oh, man. Where to start with this stuff? Well, let's talk about the name, first. Leaving aside that my title for this entry is kind of a guess, because the box for this product reads "Creamy Deluxe Macaroni Dinner with 100% Real Cheese Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Extra Cheesy Cheddar Sauce," which is... a little more than a mouthful, really. No, let's focus on the word "deluxe." What makes this product "deluxe"? Is it the cheese sauce? That must be it. Yes, the "get" here is that instead of fussing about with milk, butter, or cheese dust once your pasta has boiled, you just stir in their "extra cheesy cheddar sauce." I would point out that this is less of a net gain than they think, because you still have to deal with the most annoying part of mac n' cheese preparation-- the boiling and cooking of the pasta. Boo to that. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

What surprises me the most about this is the fact that Annie's already has a gluten free mac and cheese meal on the market. If you're not familiar with Annie's, their products dominate the shelves at places like Whole Food and Sunflower Market. And why not-- they seem dedicated to providing healthy and good food, after all. Their gluten-free selection isn't very large, but it's generally good times (look for more reviews to come, obviously). This includes their previously-existing mac and cheese. So... the deluxe version must be good times, right?

First problem: the instructions for cooking the stuff are not deluxe. Confession: I've made their mac and cheese twice, now. Why? Because the first time, I followed their instructions to the letter. The first instruction is to boil the pasta with 6 cups of water. 6 cups of water are not enough cups of water to adequately cook pasta! As a result, the macaroni in my first attempt was sticky as hell, and that did not enhance the eating experience. Second time around, I cooked that pasta my way. It turned out better. More... deluxe, if you will.

In both instances, after the pasta was cooked and drained, it was time to add the cheese sauce. Problematically, the cheese sauce, both times I attempted to work with it, had the general thickness and pliability of molasses. It did not want to leave the package, and once in the pot, the macaroni it touched immediately glommed onto it as though it were some form of orange katamari ball. Lots of struggle was involved with getting the sauce evenly distributed amongst the pasta. My guess is that if you cut the sauce with just a little bit of milk, that would help, so if you are itching for some deluxe mac and cheese, keep that in mind.

Eventually, it was time to eat the results of my labor. In Annie's favor, I will say that the end result was cheesy as all get out. With properly cooked pasta, it was even better. However, as I ate, the thickness of the sauce started to work against me. It felt rather like I had a thin layer of plastic coating my mouth, dulling my taste buds and generally being obstreperous. Was this enough to put me off my meal(s) entirely? No, but it did crop up both times I ate the stuff, which is a bit unfortunate, and a major strike against the product. I do not care for plastic-mouth, no matter what I am eating.

Quick detour into nutritional facts: this is macaroni and cheese, so it's loaded with calories (320/serving), sodium (680mg/serving), and carbs (63/serving). Big surprise! However, its fat content is refreshingly low (4g/serving), with no trans-fats to speak of. So, don't go nuts with the stuff but don't hate yourself for eating it, either.

My bottom line here is that this macaroni and cheese experience, when prepared correctly, isn't horrible, but isn't better than the other mac and cheeses already on the market. If it's the only thing you see in the store? Sure, pick it up. But if you see some of the "non-deluxe" offerings, you might gravitate there, instead.

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