Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese

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This is a sentimental meal for me. Not only because homemade mac and cheese makes me shed a tear of happiness, but because it’s the last meal I made and shared with my best friends before I left San Diego for New York. I really wanted to cook for my favorites on my last night — it’s a tradition for me to host the girls for dinner and usually a bit of horrible reality TV. So I busted this favorite out for my last night before I left for the East Coast.

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I’ve shared this mac and cheese book with you before, but let me just reiterate how great (and dangerous) it is. They get the base béchamel sauce down, and you can’t go wrong from there. This version is a spicy, delicious variation on the classic. Mix some diced up jalapeno peppers into this cheesy cheddar and cream cheese combo — yum. The first time I made it, we were scrambling for the last serving. This time I learned my lesson and made a double batch.

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TW’s Tips

  • Have some extra sliced peppers on hand for people who like it spicy.
  • Eat with people you love, because you’ll be fighting for the last bite.

To my girls — thank you for sharing so many wonderful meals with me. You made them taste 100x better because of the great company. Come visit so I can cook for you here. Miss you beyond words. xoxo

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Jalapeño Popper Mac 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
  • 2 cups mac sauce (recipe below)
  • 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup stemmed, seeded and chopped jalapeno chiles, plus extra, for garnish
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse the pasta with cold water, and drain again.

Add the sauce (remember only two cups!), cheese and chiles to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until the cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cooked pasta. Take a taste to check the potency of the chiles–jalapeños can vary in their heat, depending on the batch and the season, so you may want to add more to increase the fire.

Pour the cheesy noodle mixture into a large baking dish. Top evenly with panko and bake until you see the cheese sauce bubbling up the sides, 10 to 15 minutes.

Spoon into bowls and serve immediately. Sprinkle a few extra jalapeño bits on top for an extra kick.

Mac Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

Directions

Heat the milk in a pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When the butter has just melted, add the four and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire 3 cups. This is normal.

Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes, the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Add the salt.

The mac sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool. Store it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time. It will get a lot thicker when put in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to thin it out a bit when it comes time to melt in the cheese. Try melting the cheese into the sauce first and if it is too thick then add milk as needed.

 

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