“Amid coronavirus panic buying, Montreal factory workers labouring 24/7... to meet a demand that has spiked,” blared a headline in early April.

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This article was published 17/4/2020 (364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

"Amid coronavirus panic buying, Montreal factory workers labouring 24/7... to meet a demand that has spiked," blared a headline in early April.

Mint? Not in the KD... on it!

Just like other trading cards, KD ones deemed the most valuable are those featuring NHL legends such as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux;

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Just like other trading cards, KD ones deemed the most valuable are those featuring NHL legends such as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux;

MIB is an acronym for mint in box, an expression used by collectors of things such as Barbie dolls or Hot Wheels cars to describe specimens that have never been removed from the original packaging. As it turns out, Kraft Dinner aficionados have cause to use the term, too.

Jeff Krieg is an antique dealer specializing in sports memorabilia. A quick search of his website turns up dozens of Kraft Dinner hockey cards, some of which are in as good shape as the moment the KD boxes they were printed on hit store shelves in the 1980s and '90s.

MIB is an acronym for mint in box, an expression used by collectors of things such as Barbie dolls or Hot Wheels cars to describe specimens that have never been removed from the original packaging. As it turns out, Kraft Dinner aficionados have cause to use the term, too.

Jeff Krieg is an antique dealer specializing in sports memorabilia. A quick search of his website turns up dozens of Kraft Dinner hockey cards, some of which are in as good shape as the moment the KD boxes they were printed on hit store shelves in the 1980s and '90s.

“For sure if you have an unopened box of KD from 30 years ago, the cards on the back are going to be worth more than ones some eight-year-old kid used a dull pair of scissors to cut off,” Krieg says, fanning out Kraft Dinner hockey cards boasting the images of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 players such as Bob Essensa, Alexei Zhamnov and Tim Cheveldae.

Krieg says one of the advantages of collecting KD hockey cards back in the day was that, unlike packages produced by the likes of Upper Deck, you knew precisely what you were getting, given players were plainly visible on the back of individual boxes.

“I remember going to the store and literally turning every box around, looking for cards I didn’t already have,” he says, mentioning just like other trading cards, KD ones deemed the most valuable are those featuring NHL legends such as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux; albeit less so if they're ketchup-stained.

Given all the boxes of KD Krieg would have had to consume in order to amass his cache of KD cards, he must have been a pretty big fan of the stuff, right? Wrong.

“I actually like it more now than I did then,” he says with a laugh. “Though not as much as my dog does. Sometimes I’ll make him a bowl with slices of fried Spam thrown in for good measure. I swear, whenever I do that it's gone in about five seconds."

— David Sanderson

Was the accompanying article referencing the sudden dearth of toilet paper? Bleach? Wet-Naps? None of the above.

Rather, the report focused on the unforeseen call for Kraft Dinner, the iconic, pantry staple that grocery and convenience stores from coast to coast were suddenly running out of faster than you can say "powdered cheese."

According to Danielle Nguyen, a manager at Kraft Heinz Co.’s Montreal operation, which employs close to 1,000 people and produces 90 per cent of the KD sold in Canada, sales of the instant macaroni dish more than doubled in March, jumping to 15 million units from the seven million boxes per month sold in January and February.

To keep up, workers ordinarily assigned to "less-essential" items such as Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Kraft Caramels were reportedly being redeployed to the Kraft Dinner production line instead.

"We have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. It feels like you’re serving your country," Nguyen says, a response perhaps meant to assuage Canadians who — chew on this — purchase roughly one-third of all KD sold globally.

Closer to home, Stefan Lytwyn, a sous chef at Deer + Almond (currently open for next-day pickup only), a hip, Exchange District eatery named to Canada’s Best 100 Restaurants list in 2018, isn’t surprised to learn people stuck at home during the pandemic are reaching for KD in greater numbers than usual.

First of all, it’s economical, rarely commanding more than $2 per box, even for "premium" flavours such as alfredo and extra creamy. Secondly, it’s the epitome of comfort food, he says.

"As a chef working strange and long hours, often when we get home we like to make ourselves something simple, comforting and familiar. KD is definitely one of those things," Lytwyn says.

"As a child of the ‘90s, and a product of Saturday-morning cartoons and YTV, I have a close, rich relationship with the orange stuff."

“As a chef working strange and long hours, often when we get home we like to make ourselves something simple, comforting and familiar. KD is definitely one of those things,” Sous Chef Stefan Lytwyn says.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“As a chef working strange and long hours, often when we get home we like to make ourselves something simple, comforting and familiar. KD is definitely one of those things,” Sous Chef Stefan Lytwyn says.

So does Michael Robins, the former head chef at Osborne Village restaurant Sous Sol who, at different times in his life, also cooked at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, St. Charles Country Club and Sydney’s at The Forks.

"I was born and raised in Charleswood, and grew up with the occasional lunchtime box of KD provided by my mom," Robins says when contacted in the United Kingdom, where he is currently the head chef of the highly regarded East London resto, Pidgin.

"Every bowl I received, the first half was religiously eaten plain, followed by a healthy dose of ketchup — Heinz only — and black pepper. But today there is one thing I really miss: ranch dressing."

Ha! We’re certain we just misheard Robins; sounded like he said he likes dousing his mac and cheese with ranch dressing.

“Every bowl I received, the first half was religiously eaten plain, followed by a healthy dose of ketchup ‐ Heinz only ‐ and black pepper. But today there is one thing I really miss: ranch dressing.” – Chef Michael Robins

"Oh, how I love that creamy sauce of perfection and bliss," he says, mentioning it’s "impossible" to find KD in London, and that friends and family who’ve visited in the past always made sure to pack a few boxes for him as an emergency care package.

For his part, Lytwyn, a "good North End boy" who grew up on Lansdowne Avenue, has fond, childhood memories of wolfing down a bowl of KD for supper every now and again, though what was resting on the table in front of him differed according to whose turn it was to prepare dinner.

"My mom never really dressed it up, usually serving it as a side dish," he says. "But if my dad was responsible for supper, he would slice up a few hotdog wieners and add that to the pot, along with fried onions. And ketchup, lots and lots of ketchup."

Lytwyn laughs, recalling how, from time to time, his mother would mistakenly purchase a box of no-name mac and cheese while shopping for groceries, as opposed to the "real thing." Not that the end result ever got past his already developing palate.

"Absolutely, that stuff never got touched," he says.

If you go to the Kraft Canada website, you’ll spot dozens of recipes that include KD as a primary ingredient, suggestions such as mac ‘n cheeseburgers, stuffed peppers with KD and — OK, we’ll take their word for it — KD shepherd’s pie.

But since we already had two top-notch chefs at our disposal, we decided to put them to the test instead, asking each to devise a KD-centric dish of their own — think outside the box, if you will — to help us get through these troubled times. Here’s what each came up with.

 

Stefan Lytwyn's COVID Classic KD

Lytwyn’s Kraft Dinner creation, complete with a Munchies Snack Mix crumble on top.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lytwyn’s Kraft Dinner creation, complete with a Munchies Snack Mix crumble on top.

 

1 box Kraft Dinner (original flavour)
1 chorizo sausage (preferably dry-aged, but times are tough), pulsed in a food processor to emulate a ground-meat texture
1 head of broccoli, cut into bite size florets
60 ml (4 tbsp) olive oil
30 ml (2 tbsp) white wine vinegar
1/2 yellow onion, diced small
5 garlic cloves, minced
125 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
30 ml (2 tbsp) cold, unsalted butter
45 ml (3 tbsp) grated Beemster or any hard, sharp cheese like a parmigiano reggiano
125 ml (1 cup) crunch*

* here you can use breadcrumbs or panko, toasted in a little olive oil or butter, but you can also blitz up your favourite potato chip (Old Dutch BBQ or All Dressed to keep it Canadian) or Hawkins Cheezies; something fun, ideally from your childhood

I always like to put something green in my KD to bring some nutrients to the party. So toss the broccoli in 45 ml (3 tbsp) of olive oil and white wine vinegar, add salt and pepper and roast in a 400 F oven for 25 minutes.

In a hot pan, sauté the onion before adding the chorizo and garlic; turn to medium, rendering the fat and getting the sausage crispy, then set aside.

Cook the KD as directed on the package to about 75 per cent doneness (you are going to finish cooking it in the sauce so you don’t want to overcook it).

Drain pasta, turn element to low, then add milk and KD to the pot. While stirring, mount the butter, 15 ml (1 tbsp) at a time, until it is emulsified and begins to get creamy. Do the same for the grated parm. Fold in broccoli and chorizo. Get it to the bowl and top with crunch of your choice.

Voila, a satisfying, comforting bowl of the orange stuff with the allure of health in these troubling times.

 


 

Michael Robins' Elevated Kraft Dinner

Chef Robins insists on using original KD.

Chef Robins insists on using original KD.

1 box of Kraft Dinner (original, of course)
80 ml (1/3 cup) buttermilk (instead of milk)
15 ml (1 tbsp) butter
2 large onions (medium diced)
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground black pepper
15 ml (1 tbsp) sriracha
60 ml (4 tbsp) grated Parmesan cheese
30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh dill
30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh chives
15 ml (1 tbsp) smoked paprika

For the caramelized onions, add 30 ml (2 tbsp) oil to a heavy-bottom pot or frying pan and turn element to medium-high heat. Once hot, add the diced onions.

Cook onions for three minutes, stirring frequently. Turn to low and continue cooking onions until they are caramelized and are a nice, dark golden-brown. Make sure to stir the onions occasionally.

This process can take some time but will be well worth the wait. Once done, remove onions from pan and place onto a layer of paper towel to remove excess fat.

For the Kraft Dinner, follow the directions provided on the box, replacing milk with buttermilk. Stir in the sriracha, paprika and black pepper.

To finish, put Kraft Dinner and onions into bowl and garnish with Parmesan, chives and dill. I never though I would be submitting a recipe for an elevated Kraft Dinner from London to Winnipeg. But here we are.

One thing we cannot forget is to be open to the times, as they are rapidly changing, and to remember to make time for the silly things in life. For me, nothing brings me back like a box of KD. Sending love from London to Winnipeg.

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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