Mac & cheese is probably my favorite food. I grew up eating Kraft macaroni and cheese – licking the powdered cheese from inside the pouch, watching it miraculously turn into liquid inside of the pot.
I was always appalled when my dad would turn down a bowl. He would always say, ‘I can’t eat that stuff. I like the homemade version too much!’ And I would think to myself: ‘Who doesn’t like Kraft?!’ and ‘Fine, more for me!’ But once I was introduced to the world of homemade macaroni & cheese, my life was never the same.
I have tried multiple mac & cheese recipes and from many failed attempts, I have learned three things:
- Always make a béchamel sauce for the creamiest, cheesiest sauce
- Use a variety of cheeses with intense flavors
- For a crispy layer on top, add breadcrumbs and throw it in the oven
For this recipe in particular, I wanted some mac & cheese that had a kick. It’s really easy to make mac & cheese bland, so I opted for three different cheeses: Cabot’s Hot Habanero Cheddar Cheese, Cabot Sharp Cheddar and some gruyère (recommended in many mac & cheese recipes.)
The habanero cheese is actually too spicy to eat alone (I’m pretty weak when it comes to eating spicy foods) but it was great for this recipe! Also be prepared for a great bicep workout when you make this – béchamel sauce is notoriously fickle and sometimes takes a lot of whisking to turn it into a creamy sauce.
The best part about this recipe is that it was easy, quick and didn’t require a lot of ingredients. The finished product was ready in less than 30 minutes and it was delicious. Super creamy with the perfect amount of spice. There was no bland mac & cheese in our house tonight!
On keeping it healthy: as I’ve said many times before, I believe that everything can be enjoyed in moderation. For this recipe, I keep the portion size very small and pair it with a small salad, some veggies, or maybe even some cooked chicken for added protein. While the serving size below says it will feed 6 people, that is assuming 6 smaller bowls. If you’re really hungry, this will probably only feed 4 😉
- 8 ounces elbow pasta
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup of Sharp Cheddar Cheese
- 1 cup of Hot Habanero Cheddar Cheese
- 1 cup of Gruyère Cheese
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- Cook the macaroni noodles and set aside.
- Shred the cheese (I used 1/2 a block of each)
- Heat butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or oven-safe saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and foamy, add the flour, whisking until it becomes frothy and golden brown (2-3 minutes.)
- Start to add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously. If the mixture starts to clump into a paste, continue whisking! It wasn't until I added 1.5 cups of milk that the béchamel sauce actually looked like a thick, creamy sauce. The entire whisking process will take between 7-8 minutes.
- Whisk in cayenne, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
- Add in the cheese, small handfuls at a time, stirring after each addition. Make sure to save 1/4 of the cheese to add at the end.
- Fold in the noodles to the béchamel sauce and top with the extra cheese, also adding the breadcrumbs to the top.
- Broil on high for 4-5 minutes and serve immediately
- What is your favorite food?
- Do you have a go-to mac & cheese recipe?
- Did you eat Kraft when you were little?