While I was hobnobbing it at the Foodbuzz Festival last year, I was one of the few who got to sample the spicy mac ‘n cheese that got passed around Friday evening. It was creamy and spicy and I was thankful that it was a small portion because it tasted extremely decadent.
I made sure to tell Scott all about it and since then he has been saying, “Mmm spicy mac ‘n cheese” at random points.
Mac ‘n cheese isn’t something I make all that often but I have been making it since Scott and I first moved in together. He grew up on that crazy boxed stuff and I personally think that stuff is disgusting (Gee do I want powder cheese? Or cheeze-whiz in a pouch for the “creamy” version. EW!). We didn’t have it at my house. We didn’t have mac ‘n cheese period, except when my neighbor would bring over some of the homemade kind which was amazing.
Because I had homemade I knew it could be done and whenever Scott would ask for mac ‘n cheese, I would make it for him. I learned what a bechamel sauce was and how to make a great one. Then I learned how to make short-cuts because I like being uber efficient in the kitchen. Then I learned that I could do it my way and make it even better.
Scott stopped his random mutterings and straight up asked for some spicy mac ‘n cheese. This was my first time making a spicy version and I’m pretty pleased with the results.
Andrea’s Spicy Mac ‘N Cheese
- 2 1/2C Whole Wheat Elbow pasta
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine
- 1/2 Medium onion, chopped
- 1 1/2C Cubed Ham
- 2/3C Salsa (chunky preferably)
- 1C Chicken stock
- 2/3C Soymilk
- 2 1/2TBSP Unbleached all purpose flour (heaping)
- 1 1/2C Shredded pepperjack cheese
- 1/2C Shredded sharp cheddar
- Reserve some cheese for sprinkling on top
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1tsp Chili powder
- 2tsp Garlic powder
- 1/2tsp Smoked paprika
- Olive oil for sautéing
Preheat oven to 400. Cook pasta according to package directions. Do not cook all the way but take until just shy of being done. Set aside. In a medium-sized skillet (one with high sides) add some olive oil (about 2 TBSP) and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and jalapeno and sauté until they are soft (about 4 minutes). Add in the red pepper flakes and the rest of the seasonings, combine. Add in the flour and stir until everything is coated. If this mixture looks dry, add in some additional olive oil, just a touch. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes, then add in the salsa and stir. Slowly add in the chicken stock and stir until the mixture is combined. It should start to thicken up on you. Let it start to simmer and thicken even more. Add in the soymilk. Turn the heat down and slowly add in the cheeses, stirring each time you add in some cheese. Remember to hold some back for sprinkling on top. The “sauce” should be thick and creamy by this point. Turn the heat off and add in the pasta and ham cubes. Combine.
Add mixture to a greased casserole dish. Place in oven and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, then stir. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and place in oven to heat for about another 5-7 minutes. You want the cheese melted and perhaps starting to brown on you.
Remove from oven and serve immediately!
You’ll notice right away a few things that make my mac ‘n cheese different from the norm:
- Using stock
- Using soymilk
- No butter
Personally to have a great dish I don’t think you need to have a lot of “heavy” things. Mac ‘n cheese can be creamy and glorious without heavy cream, butter, and tons of cheese.
The chicken stock helps keep things on the lighter end and you can just as easily use veggie broth or No-Chicken chicken broth instead. Heck you can even use some white wine (which I’ve done before. Surprised? I didn’t think so.) to give it some depth and umph.
I don’t even keep dairy milk in the house so soymilk is my go-to for most things. It’s creamy and you cannot even tell that soymilk is used instead of regular milk.
Whole wheat pasta because that’s how we roll over here.
There is a good bit of cheese still in this dish but it’s not over-the-top considering this fills up a huge casserole dish and leaves plenty for leftovers. My mac ‘n cheese isn’t a super creamy saucy dish just because that’s not our preference. It has just the right amount of pasta-to-sauce-to-cheese ratio.
Since it’s a spicy version, I went with pepperjack as the main cheese but you can use whatever you like. Using chunky salsa helps provide heat and also adds color and texture to the dish. It really makes the dish in my opinion.
Scott loves ham with his mac ‘n cheese and I always make sure he gets it. You can omit it though if it’s not something you dig on. It won’t affect the ingredient portions at all.
This dish also freezes well but be careful when reheating that you don’t overcook it and dry the cheese out.
Have fun guys, and remember, always play with your food! Enjoy!