Sometimes I find my mind wandering to various places to keep me entertained when I find myself in a less-than-exciting situation. This happens at work now and then, not that I am not just totally stimulated by everything I do everyday, but…you know. 🙂
One day I found myself dreaming about mac and cheese, so I started making a list of ingredients for what I found to be the ideal recipe. This can be hard to narrow down because it is truly so easy to get creative with this dish. Adding veggies and meats, mixing up the cheese choice; it can be as unique as you want!
For myself and Mark, as you can probably tell by now, we love jalapeños in just about everything. Considering I always have a jalapeño on hand, it was the perfect start for our personalized mac and cheese. I added fresh, diced jalapeños while I was creating the roux. I wanted it to really have that flavor and heat in the base of the entire dish. Yum! So, this counted for my “veggie” option. I absolutely support you throwing in real veggies if you please, maybe some broccoli or tomato for fun!
Next, it was time to move on to my cheese options. I don’t think I’ve ever met a cheese I didn’t like, so this was hard for me to choose. There are two shows on the Cooking Channel that I really enjoy and find super informative and fun: Brunch at Bobby’s and Kelsey’s Essentials. (Check them out if you ever have time!) I adore Kelsey’s Essentials because she does a fantastic job of creating dishes that I really enjoy, and she always has a fresh, fun approach to teaching her audience basic kitchen knowledge. I try to take one “essential” piece of knowledge or recommendation from her show every time I watch. For this particular case, I have watched her make bacon mac and cheese and ALWAYS suggests using Muenster. She claims that after much trial and error, this cheese tends to have a wonderful melting property that works really well for mac and cheese, and it also maintains its creamy texture even after all the other ingredients are added.
I gotta tell ya, she’s totally right. Muenster: check. Using a variety of cheese is a great option: different textures and flavors can really elevate a basic mac and cheese to a whole new level! For this recipe, I had to keep going with what I love. It just so happens that I am absolutely in LOVE with gouda for cheese sauces or even to just eat on its own. It’s a no-brainer for me! Also, I believe that cheddar is an essential for most mac and cheeses. I went with an aged cheddar that really had a funky, sweet flavor to it. I didn’t add much, as I didn’t want to get too crazy with the different flavors, but a little touch of it really rounded the dish nicely.
Finally, the meats. As a kid, my mom would make use Velveeta mac and cheese with a side of summer sausage. To this day, I remember thinking how much I loved those two flavors together: cheese and sausage just seemed to be made for each other. If you dice the sausage into small pieces and mix it in with your pasta, it is heavenly. Mark and I also grilled a chicken breast (seasoned with salt, pepper and seasoned salt), and shredded it into the pasta. Perfection.
This recipe makes enough cheese sauce to not only cover the pasta thoroughly, but it totally coats the meats once they are a part of the show! The last thing we need is a skimpy cheese sauce. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
[my additional tips!]:
Actual Prep / cook time: 35 minutes
Clean-up difficulty: 2 [easy stuff.]
Overall difficulty to make: 4 [a lot of moving parts, but not too bad.]
Overall satisfaction: 9 [seriously? soooo good.]
Price range? This dish is under $10 for the entire recipe.
What I would change next time? I would change nothing.
For your own version, I recommend:
- Get creative! Throw in some broccoli, tomatoes, bread crumbs, etc.
- The jalapenos are optional.
- Slowly add the cheese – this helps with keeping the consistency creamy and perfect for mac and cheese.
- This can be served immediately, or you can bake it with parmesan or breadcrumbs on top!
© 2015 : a flavor journal : by sara alvord
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 fresh jalapeno, diced, with seeds and membrane
- 1/8 cup flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tbsp. powdered mustard
- 1/2 cup shredded gouda
- 1 cup shredded muenster
- 1/2 cup aged alpine cheddar
- 1 tbsp. hot sauce
- 2 1/2 cups uncooked small shells
- 1 large grilled chicken breast, seasoned with salt, pepper, seasoned salt
- 1/2 cup diced pork sausage link (andouille, pork, etc.)
- Heat a large saucepan to medium-low. Add butter, melt entirely, then add diced jalapeno. Cook 5 minutes.
- Whisk in flour for 30 seconds until absorbed, then add milk one cup at a time. Keep whisking as you add milk, and finally add cream while still whisking.
- Add salt and pepper, turn to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, then turn back to a simmer on low.
- Whisk in powdered mustard and garlic powder.
- Slowly add shredded cheese, about a handful at a time. Whisk until each handful is absorbed, then add the next. Once all of the cheese is melted into the sauce, add hot sauce and whisk until the color is consistent and cheese sauce is thick and creamy.
- Drain the pasta as much as possible, then add slowly into cream sauce. Coat all pasta shells by mixing them in slowly with your spoon.
- Finally, add shredded chicken and sausage. Mix in just as you did the pasta shells, by slowly stirring it into your pasta and cheese sauce.
- Get creative! Use different veggies if you like!
- This mac and cheese is made to be served immediately - you can also bake it with breadcrumbs on top if you please!
- The jalapeño is totally optional - feel free to omit if you don't want the heat!