First Post + Award Winning Jalapeno Popper Mac N' Cheese

Hello there!  Welcome to lick the spoon, where all things delicious live. Today kicks off a full month of daily blogging.

Let's kick things off with an absolute banger: Award Winning Jalpeno Popper Mac N' Cheese.

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Okay so full disclosure, I am not good at sports. Generally when any ball is coming towards me I scream, because I can feel the preemptive the nose bleed. So with that being said I have never won a trophy for anything besides participation.

HOWEVER this has all changed. With my now most beloved trophy, no more participation ribbons for me; it's all gold baby. My church had a mac n cheese contest and I was encouraged by a few people to submit a dish. I wanted to respect the beloved mac n cheese for what it was but make it good enough that I could be crowned queen of mac n cheese. I got to thinking what would be just enough to craft a win? So I have done mac n cheese with bacon before, but it needed a bit more.. but what?? Jalapeños , cream cheese and bacon. Then a winner was born.

 

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I grew up eating mac n cheese with my grandma and mom. With awesome bread crumb and Parmesan crispy top and creamy cheesy noodles underneath.  Absolutely 100 percent comfort food. My childhood was enriched by 62% because of mac n cheese.

One thing that makes this mac n cheese special is the cheese sauce. I always hated after yo created this luxirious sauce, you would put it in the oven and it would get dried out. What I figured out is the secret to preventing it from being dried out is double the amount of cheese sauce, I know right?? This was my breakthrough a few years ago, I accidentally made a double batch of cheese sauce, so I decided to experiment. Alas, like all great inventors (lol) I had done it.

Get your mac on.

Jalapeño Popper Mac N' Cheese

FOR THE PASTA:

  • 1 large jalapeno, sliced
  • 7 strips thick-cut bacon
  • ¾  of a bag of. cavatappi pasta
  • 4 cups milk
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup softened cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

FOR THE BREAD CRUMB TOPPING:

  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons of Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup of shredded sharp cheddar
  • Half of the bacon
  • Jalpeno Slices ( for garnish)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Set aside about half of your jalapeño slices to use as a garnish on the finished mac and cheese. Dice up the remaining jalapeño slices and set aside. You'll need 1 heaping tablespoon of diced jalapeño for the cheese sauce (use more or less depending on your spice preferences).
  3. Cook bacon in the oven or on the stove top until crispy. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate and let cool, then dice into bacon-bit-sized pieces.
  4. Cook pasta in very salty water until 3 minutes less than al dente. Drain and  rinse with cold water. Set aside
  5. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of the diced jalapeño to butter and sauté for 30 seconds, just until jalapeño begins to soften.
  6.  Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown in color, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  7. While whisking constantly, slowly add the milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then it will thin out.)
  8. Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the salt, taste, and season with additional salt if desired. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To assemble:

  1.  Place the saucepan of béchamel over medium heat and stir in cheddar and cream cheese just until melted and smooth.  Add in half of the bacon. Add the pasta and mix together so cheese is coating the noodles.
  2. Melt the butter then add both cheeses, breadcrumbs, bacon. Cover entire top of mac n cheese with cheese and breadcrumb mixture. Add a few jalapeño slices.
  3. Cook at 375 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes until top is crispy and bubbly.

Thanks for reading,

Sarah