I just completed testing and tasting my first try at recreating the salty goodness that is the classic yellow (or some might deem it electric orange) box of Velveeta Shells & Cheese at home. My reaction? Otto (one of my favorite actors, Kevin Kline) says it best:
You must know, I did my research before attempting this recipe. I believe I even went eight pages (“My name is Otto. It means ‘eight’.“…hahaha! Okay, enough Fish Called Wanda references) into Google search results. And after culling the basic recipe down to five very similar versions, I finally went with the one that I adapted, from Man Tested Recipes. And you also must know that many, many people really liked this recipe according to reviews. So, I know I am in the minority.
In the beginning, I was optimistic: If I could recreate the yummy boxed Velveeta flavor with only four ingredients, imagine all the other things that I could do! The world opened up and the unicorns and rainbows shone through.
Seeing that the main ingredient was a brick of Velveeta, I decided that somehow healthying the recipe up with whole-wheat shells would be blasphemous. I went with DaVinci Sea Shells, which I’d call medium to large shells. I did use fat-free milk though, as that is the only milk in the house.
First, the shells were measured out and two cups were added to salted boiling water in a large pot. The shells were cooked per package directions and drained.
While the pasta was cooking, the Velveeta was cut into about 1-inch cubes. The butter was cubed as well, to ease in melting uniformly. And to finish out our four-ingredient mac and cheese, the milk was measured into a quarter-cup measuring container.
Once the shells were draining, the large pot was placed back on the burner and the processed-cheese-like-food was added, along with the butter and milk. The concoction was stirred over low heat until the Velveeta was completely melted.
Once the sauce was incorporated, the shells were added back to the pot and the whole thing was given a good stir.
The verdict: Disappointing. One and a half elbows up for this first attempt. It was missing the zinginess that comes in the Velveeta bright yellow box. Perhaps because the boxed version is so salt-laden, it shorts out the taste buds and that creates the zingy sensation? I don’t know, but my homemade version lacked that sparkle that I was craving. And after looking at the sodium in the Velveeta brick (not to mention the butter), I was NOT willing to add any more salt to the pot.
It tasted so purely of flat Velveeta that it was the definition of “boring” on a fork. And while with the boxed version there is a magical window of about ten minutes before the congealing starts, with my stove-top version the congealing started within two minutes. I was left with a bowl of congealed Velveeta; I could practically hear the poor trapped shells screaming to be released from their goopy prison. Keep in mind that I am a mac and cheese freak. The freakiest of freaks about the stuff. Seriously. And I put my fork down after three bites – I just couldn’t do it. I tried to will my mind back to happier mac and cheese times, “Just pretend it is the real boxed stuff, it’s good, you like this!” but my brain was having none of it. My taste buds openly rebelled. And I was left with that horribly unfinished feeling that happens when you anticipate something so much and look forward to it for days in advance, and then suddenly it is shockingly NOT what you’d anticipated. Not even close. Like longing for a powerful doppio espresso and ending up with watery, weak tea instead. You can almost hear your mouth saying “WTF is this? This is so not what I wanted!”
Here is my recipe, adapted from Man Tested Recipes.
- 2 cups shells
- ¼ cup fat-free milk
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 pound Velveeta
- In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook shells per package directions. Drain.
- While pasta is cooking, cut Velveeta and butter into cubes.
- In the same large pot, add milk, cheese and butter and stir over low heat until the Velveeta is completely melted and all ingredients are incorporated.
- Add the drained shells back to the pot and stir to combine.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
My fix? It I was to try this recipe again, I’d make the following changes: increase the milk and the butter to a half-cup each (perhaps more, I’d need to tinker as I went) and perhaps even boost the shells to 2.5 or 3 cups. The poor shells were swimming in the sauce in the recipe as made above. And I think more milk and butter might cut the pure, flat taste of the Velveeta. That, and I might just throw in a salt lick as well.
After committing the contents of the pot to the garbage, I moped about the house considering several different options (all involving making a decent pot of mac and cheese, like Beecher’s). In the end, I went in the polar opposite direction. If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen whipping up a batch of banana cake with cream-cheese brown-butter frosting.
Do you have a phenomenal recipe for Velveeta Shells & Cheese? If so, hook me up!
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