When what you're after is the ultimate edible gift that will win hearts (and stomachs), it's time to go straight to nostalgic comfort food. Assembled in a tall jar, this DIY instant mac and cheese goes way beyond anything you'll find in a box, and cooks up into an ultra-creamy dinner to feed the whole table.
Why Give the Gift of Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese in a jar is about more than sharing an irresistible comfort food with those you love — it's about giving the gift of convenience. This is your way to lend a helping hand and make getting dinner on the table a little easier. It's also a convenience for you, as it's incredibly easy to assemble — no cooking required.
Unlike a tin of homemade cookies, this is the gift that holds up well for months to come. Let the lucky recipient tuck this quick-cooking meal away in the pantry and rejoice in a comforting weeknight dinner once the regular (aka busy) routine sets back in after the holiday rush.
Assembling the Mac and Cheese in a Mason Jar
Even if you don't consider yourself much of a DIY-er, this is the DIY gift that couldn't be easier to assemble. You'll need five items to get started.
- A two-quart wide-mouth Mason jar: Big enough to hold a pound of pasta.
- Parchment or wax paper: Cut out a round the same size as the bottom of the jar. This is used to separate the cheese powder and shells.
- Cheddar cheese powder: This will get cooked into a creamy, cheesy sauce.
- One pound medium pasta shells: Enough to feed the whole table.
- Holiday trimmings (recipe card and pretty ribbon): Include a recipe card with cooking instructions.
Add the cheese powder to the bottom of the jar, and tilt the jar so the cheese settles in an even layer. Top with the round of parchment or wax paper, then fill the remainder of the jar with the pasta shells. Use pretty holiday ribbon to attach a recipe card with the cooking instructions around the top of the jar.
Customize Your Mac and Cheese
It's hard to beat a classic bowl of creamy shells and cheese, but for anyone who might enjoy more flavor, this is an easy gift to customize.
- Give it a spicy twist: Stir 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper into the cheese powder.
- Give it a taco twist: Stir 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder into the cheese powder.
- Give it a Middle Eastern-inspired twist: Stir 1 teaspoon za'atar into the cheese powder.
Cooking the Mac and Cheese
Help the lucky recipient of this gift bring dinner to the table by including a recipe card with cooking instructions. Here's what you'll want to include.
- Cook the shells until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain water from pot.
- Whisk together cheese powder, 1 cup milk (whole or 2%), and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a bowl.
- Heat shells and 1 stick unsalted butter over low heat. Stir to melt butter and coat shells.
- Add milk and cheese.
- Stir until mixture is thickened and shells are coated. Serve immediately.
Instant Mac and Cheese Mix in a Mason Jar
For the jar:
1 pound medium dried pasta shells or macaroni
1 1/4 cups cheddar cheese powder
1 cup whole or 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
Assemble the jar: Cut out a round of parchment or wax paper that's the same diameter as the opening of the jar.
Place the cheese powder in a 2-quart wide-mouth Mason jar, and tilt the jar as needed to create an even layer at the bottom. Top the cheese with the parchment or wax paper round. Pour in the shells. Seal the jar, and tie with ribbon and a tag containing the cooking instructions.
Cook the mac and cheese: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and stir to avoid the pasta from clumping together or sticking to the sides of the pot. Cook until the shells are al dente and not quite fully tender, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the cheese powder, milk, and salt together in a large measuring cup or bowl; set aside
Drain the water from the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot and place over low heat. Add the butter and stir until melted and the shells are evenly coated. Add the cheese and milk mixture and stir continuously until the pasta is well coated and the sauce thickens but is not totally absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
- Storage: Store the jar in the pantry for up to 3 months. Cooked leftovers can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.