Tag Archives: homemade mac and cheese

Creamy Jalapeño Mac & Cheese

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Sometimes a girl reads about mac and cheese about thirty times in ten minutes, while browsing through her blogroll, then sees about ten other mac and cheese photographs over her instagram feed. Forty different mac and cheeses, mind you. The obvious thing that happens then is this girl gets to craving macaroni and cheese for a week before she finally gives in and says, “Okay, self. Let’s go for it.”

So here we are. I admit: those creepy macaroni and cheese products that come in rectangular cardboard boxes? I occasionally let that be okay. I opt for the organic, Annie’s variety, even though I never follow the directions and always add more cheese (un-powdered-varietal), hot sauce, and nutritional yeast… But homemade mac and cheese is a whole different animal.

I’d like to tell you I’ve made stovetop and baked versions of macaroni and cheese so many times I absolutely have a go-to recipe, but I don’t. Until now, perhaps. This recipe is by far my favorite, backed by nearly 15 years worth of mac and cheese making experiences. I think previously, I overanalyzed my methods. I tried to make a perfect sauce that often ended up too runny after being baked, or picked the wrong cheeses that just didn’t taste alright in the end result. I’ve followed recipes that include eggs in the sauce. I’ve cooked the noodles too hastily, without enough time (or salt).

Let’s get real. Mac and cheese is a straightforward beast (a handsome, good tasting sort of beast, that is). It begins with a bechamel (which is just fancy for a sauce made of butter, flour, milk, salt, and pepper – the latter two ingredients being an exception, elaboration, if you will). The real trick is in the cheese. Do not go for cheap, not-so-good cheese. That’s where the majority of the flavor is going to come from. Typically cheeses that have a little bit of age to them (say 1 1/2 to 2 years minimum) will give you the best flavor. And salt? Don’t skimp at the salt. It brings out the taste of the cheese (really, even though cheese is often a bit salty on its own).

This particular macaroni and cheese features fresh hot peppers. If you want a less spicy mac, you can use sweet bell peppers or anaheim peppers, or even poblanos that will add some pepper flavor without the spice. If you’re one of those folks who prefers a creamy mac and cheese to the crispy-topped baked version, you can eat this as soon as the sauce meets the noodles. Just skip the breadcrumb and baking portions of this recipe.

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Creamy Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6-8 people.

Ingredients:

For the macaroni and cheese:
1 1/2 pounds elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

For the sauce:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups half and half
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 oz. extra sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. havarti cheese, shredded
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup finely diced fresh jalapeño peppers (or whatever variety you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

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Directions:

If you are going to be baking the macaroni and cheese, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Melt the  two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs until they are all nicely coated. Remove from heat and set aside until needed.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, until smooth. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the half and half. The mixture will immediately thicken, just keep stirring. Once the half and half has been completely incorporated, stir in the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens (4 to 5 minutes). Stir in the salt and granulated garlic. (It’s important that you add the salt at this point, not earlier into the sauce-making. Added too early, your sauce will be overwhelmingly salty. Added now, it’ll seem a bit salty at first, but the final product will mellow this out a bit.)

Add the cheese in, about a half cup at a time, stirring to fully incorporate each new addition. Once all the  shredded cheese has been added, stir in the cream cheese. Continue stirring until you are left with a thick, creamy cheese sauce. Add in the finely diced peppers, stirring to evenly distribute everything. Reduce heat to low.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until the noodles are just past al dente. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles, then stir to make sure every inch of pasta has been covered with sauce.

Pour the macaroni into a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the buttered panko breadcrumbs. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly at the edges and the breadcrumbs are nicely golden in color.

Serve while hot.

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Gluten Free Green Chile Sweet Corn Mac and Cheese

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The last week has been a whirlwind. While I’ve got more than a few recipes ready to show up on this little blog, the last handful of days have been long and come 10:30 at night, the last thing I want to do is sit at my computer trying to write cohesive sentences. School finished last Friday for Silas. My husband finishes up tomorrow. I turned 28 on Monday. Silas turned 8 today. Tomorrow we’re hosting his first friend-sleepover. Somewhere in there, we’ve been dealing with at home hospice-type care for my sweet Nikki dog, who’s dealing with a degenerative disease we cannot do much of anything about, except wait. Or lay on the kitchen floor with her, gently petting her head until she relaxes enough to sleep, followed by getting up every 2-3 hours in the night, or throughout the day, to help her outside to use the bathroom, because her back legs are paralyzed and she can’t walk without physical assistance. Aside from her legs, she’s in good spirits most of the time and her mind is entirely coherent.

While the birthdays have been good breaks from the stress of things, lending good food, cocktails, a multitude of doughnuts, and a new iPhone, the days are still long. Thankfully, the place I go to for peace of mind is the kitchen. Or the garden. Or the ocean, but that’s not located in this Oregon valley. Let’s return to the kitchen… The idea for this macaroni and cheese hit me as I lay in bed one night. I have a habit of reading food blogs late at night, which ultimately does two things: leaves me feeling incredibly hungry at one in the morning and also inspires the following day’s meals.

I often prefer a crisp topped homemade mac and cheese, but decided to leave this dish creamy. Since I used brown rice flour in the roux for my cheese sauce and quinoa pasta, this mac and cheese is also gluten free. I was a little skeptical of sweet corn in any sort of pasta. However, the fresh sweetness that the corn lends balances beautifully with the green chiles, as well as the creamy havarti and monterey jack cheeses used in this sauce. We had this as a side dish one night, with vegetarian meatloaf and green beans. The next night, as the main course. You can serve it however you’d like! :)

 

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Green Chile and Sweet Corn Mac and Cheese

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients:

6 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup oat or brown rice flour
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. granulated garlic
¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp. dried mustard powder
2 cups whole milk
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups sweet corn kernels (about 2 medium-large ears of corn)
1- 4 oz. can mild green chiles
1 pound quinoa elbow pasta
½ cup grated havarti cheese
2 cups grated monterey jack cheese

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt and a drizzling of oil. Add the quinoa pasta, then cook according to the package directions. Once the pasta is cooked just beyond al dente, drain it, reserving about one cup of pasta cooking liquid.

While the water is coming to a boil for the pasta, melt the butter in a medium-large pot, over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, then cook for an additional 10 minutes, to allow the “flour taste” to cook off.

Stir in the salt, garlic, pepper, and mustard powder until completely combined. Whisk in the milk and heavy cream, all at once. Occasionally whisk the mixture, making sure the sauce remains smooth, until it thickens up (15-20 minutes). Stir in the sweet corn and green chiles. Taste the sauce, then add more salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the macaroni, until well coated. If the cheese sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water, stirring until smooth.

Allow the macaroni and cheese to cook over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, then serve immediately while still hot.

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