Posts Tagged With: Pasta

Face Off: Boxed Macaroni & Cheese (Part II)

Some time ago – six months, to be exact – we announced a bracket-style boxed macaroni and cheese face-off. “This is something that will take awhile,” we warned, so if nothing else we were true to our word. I just didn’t expect half a year to pass before we got to round 2.


The winner of the first challenge, in case you don’t remember, was Trader Joe’s, by a vote of 2-1. Sorry, Kraft. In the end, you were too overly processed.

In the second round, we pitted two organic contenders: Annie’s and Horizon.



In the interest of fairness, we chose the same flavor, as well. Each box is labeled “classic” and “mild cheddar.” And they both feature animals – Annie’s has a rabbit, Horizon’s got a flying cow. Or maybe he’s leaping. Probably trying to get away from the butcher, but we can pretend otherwise.

Both brands advertise no artificial flavors or preservatives. Horizon goes a step further and touts no artificial colors, while Annie’s proclaims there are “no synthetic colors.” Instead, they use annatto – derived from the seed of the achiote plant – for coloring. This is not an uncommon practice; annatto has long been used to add orange coloring to many cheeses, dairy spreads, baked goods, and snack foods. It beats the food dyes used by some manufacturers (that would be you, Kraft), so it’s not a knack against Annie’s, though annatto has been linked to food allergies in some people.

The color disparity was immediately evident when we emptied the “cheese packets” into each pot. Annie’s was bright orange, while Horizon’s was perfectly white. Once the milk and butter were added, however, the Horizon mac ‘n cheese magically turned orange.


Like the first time, we prepared both boxes exactly the same, and added no extra seasonings. Here’s what they looked like, freshly dished up:

The only discernible difference is, the Annie’s had some unappealing clumps of cheese that would not dissolve. This was also the case with the Trader Joe’s brand, but that one was declared the winner, so I was not concerned about this. It all comes down to flavor anyway. And this time, the results were unanimous: all three of us chose the same brand, and to be honest, it wasn’t even close. The winner of the second round?


We thought it was creamier and had a much cheesier flavor than Annie’s, which was pretty bland.

So, it’s on to the final round: Trader Joe’s v. Horizon. All that’s left in the boxed category are various store or generic brands, and we really don’t expect much from those. We’ll let these two national brands duke it out for bragging rights.

And this time, we won’t wait another six months. I promise!



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279/365: National Noodle Day

Generations both pasta and present have had a hankering for today’s celebrated food. October 6 is National Noodle Day!

Noodles are an ancient food dating back thousands of years: archaeologists recently unearthed a bowl along the Yellow River in China that contained 4000 year old preserved noodles. It was determined they were made from millet and formed by repeatedly stretching and pulling the dough by hand. The word is derived from the German nudel which, unfortunately, we have as yet been unable to translate. Noodles can be made from almost any type of dough, including wheat, rice, potato, maize, nut, and buckwheat. Once the dough is rolled flat, it is cut into a variety of shapes such as long, thin strips; bows; tubes; and pentagrams. They must be boiled in order to bring their texture back to life. Noodles are popular in many cultures around the world, particularly in Asian and Italian cuisine. Instant noodles were invented in 1958 and have revolutionized the ramen industry, bringing joy to starving college students everywhere.

With so many different varieties of noodles available, we had trouble narrowing down how best to celebrate today’s food holiday. We finally decided to go simple and pick up some fresh pasta from Pastaworks, a great Italian deli/grocery store (or as they call themselves, “European market”) on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland. We opted for freshly made rotini, since it was more of a “noodle” than, say, ravioli would have been. Paired with their marinara sauce and a baguette, we ended up with a quick and delicious meal!

National Noodle Day

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79/365: National Ravioli Day

Today’s food holiday is a very fulfilling one: we honor one of my personal favorite types of pasta. It’s National Ravioli Day!

Ravioli is any filled or sealed pasta, so technically tortellini is a type of ravioli. Which means we’ve already celebrated this holiday! But ravioli are so good, I don’t mind doing it again. Wontons, pierogis, and dumplings are also variations of ravioli. Burritos are not, unless you make yours with pasta, which would be…hmm…actually, a brilliant idea! Ravioli are traditionally filled with either meat or cheese, and simmered in sauce or broth.

Haute cuisine to a kid!

Haute cuisine to a kid!

The earliest reference to ravioli is found in a manuscript by Tuscan merchant Francesco di Marco Datin, dated sometime in the 14th century. Francesco included a recipe for ravioli made with chopped blanched green herbs mixed with beaten egg and fresh cheese, and served with – this is the weird part – Newman’s Own Sock It To ‘Em Sockarooni pasta sauce. Oops, I mean, served in broth. That makes more sense! Actually, tomato-based sauces didn’t even exist in Italy for another couple of centuries, when they were imported from the New World. Italian cuisine without tomato sauce? That’s hard to fathom. Ravioli are traditionally made at home and stuffed with ingredients like ricotta, spinach, and nutmeg, but they are also prepackaged for lazy-ass people who can’t roll out pasta dough convenience. The first canned ravioli was produced during World War I, and let’s face it, what kid hasn’t enjoyed a bowl of Chef Boyardee Ravioli while growing up? In fact, Tara professes a fondness for this stuff even today.

Fortunately, we did not run out and heat up a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli for today’s challenge, though we also didn’t make our own fresh pasta from scratch (though that is a goal of mine). We were at Costco over the weekend, and picked up a package of Jarlsberg & Portobello Mushroom ravioli, so I cooked those up for lunch, and served them with a mushroom alfredo sauce. Good stuff!


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44/365: National Tortellini Day

When it comes to stuffed pasta, tortellini ranks right up there in my top three! Right behind ravioli, but ahead of manicotti. Then again, there are really only those three varieties of stuffed pasta  in the first place. Technicalities aside, Happy National Tortellini Day!

Tortellini has a sensual history; it is rumored to be the creation of a Peeping Tom. Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, was a stunning beauty with long blonde hair, hazel eyes, and an ample bosom. One night she checked into an inn in Modena, Italy. The host was so entranced by her beauty that he spied on her through the keyhole to her room, where he caught a glimpse of her navel. Captivated by the sight, he created a pasta shaped like her belly button that very night, and to this day tortellini is also known as umbellico (“belly button”). No word on whether the pervert served the dish with two ripe cantaloupes. Others say it was the goddess Venus’s navel that inspired the dish. An alternate theory claims that tortellini represent turtles, which decorated many of the buildings in 17th-century Modena. The Bolognese, on the other hand, say these  stories are bunk, and that tortellini originated in their fair burg. These guys are so hardcore about the pasta, they created the Learned Order of Tortellini, a secret group based in Bologna that is dedicated to the preservation of the pasta. During their gatherings members wear red and gold hats shaped like tortellini and ribbon necklaces adorned with a gold tortellini. Members do not speak a word until after finishing a meal of tortellini in broth. (I know I tend to joke around a lot on this blog, but I am not making this shit up, I swear!). And we poke fun at Green Bay Packers fans for wearing cheese-shaped hats on their heads…

Regardless of where it came from and what it represents, tortellini are delicious! Tara and I were looking forward to today’s challenge. And to be honest, there wasn’t anything “challenging” about it, thanks to a package of refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini and a jar of pasta sauce.


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