I like mac and cheese. A lot. However, that usually means something in a box to most people. I have nothing against the boxed version but it mostly hooks you in with a lot of salt.
I am not pure of heart, though. If I had my way, mac and cheese is made with process cheese like Velveeta. It just melts better. However, She Who Must Be Obeyed calls process cheese “orange” and I get a tongue clucking when I use it.
I decided if I was going to do a version with real cheese, I might as well jazz it up and make it even more complex. I have thrown in some ham cubes for colour, chew and a touch of saltiness. I added some salsa. Not enough to make it a TexMex dish, just enough to add some tomato sweetness and pepper bite. My final addition was just a bit of finely chopped jalapeno. Not enough to cause any burn but just a touch of background heat. I wanted a mac and cheese that was creamy with a big cheese hit but other flavours to add to the complexity.
I started by preheating my oven to 350 F.
I finely diced 15 ml (1 tablespoon) jalapeno.
I cubed 250 grams (1/2 pound) or about 500 ml (2 cups) of old cheddar. I cubed 1 cup of ham.
I cooked 250 grams (1/2 pound) or about 500 ml (2 cups) of macaroni (measured before cooking) until al dente. Follow the package instructions. I drained it and set it aside.
I melted 60 ml (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons) of butter over medium heat. I added 60 ml (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons) of flour and stirred to combined.
I slowly added 400 ml (1 2/3 cups) of milk and stirred to combine. I added the jalapenos, 2 ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt and 2 ml (1/2 teaspoon) pepper. Cook, stirring constantly until the milk thickens. Add the cubed cheese and stir until melted and completely combined. Remove from heat and set aside.
Spray a 1 1/2 litre (1 1/2 quart) casserole with baking spray. Put 1/2 the cooked macaroni in the casserole. Put 1/2 of the cubed ham over the macaroni. Put 1/2 of the 175 ml (3/4 cup) of medium salsa over the ham. Pour 1/2 of the cheese sauce over the salsa.
Repeat the layers with the remaining macaroni, ham, salsa and cheese sauce.
Sprinkle 50 ml (1/4 cup) of bread crumbs over the surface. Dot the surface with 15 ml (1 tablespoon) butter.
Bake at 350 F for 40 minutes or until heated through and the bread crumbs are golden. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
This came out just the way I wanted it. It is a nice creamy mac and cheese. You woudn’t know there was salsa and jalapeno added. There is just a brighter taste to the cheese sauce and a mild touch of spiciness that lingers after eating it. I guarantee kids will still love this but adults will find the bolder taste appealing.
I have to admit, I would use 1/2 cheddar and 1/2 process cheese because I like the way the process melts but I can’t argue with She Who Must Be Obeyed, the big cheddar taste was nice!
The Old Fat Guy.
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) finely chopped jalapeno
- 250 grams (1/2 pound) old cheddar cheese, cubed to make 500 ml (2 cups)
- 250 ml (1 cup) cubed ham
- 60 ml (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons) butter
- 60 ml (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons) flour
- 400 ml (1 2/3 cups) milk
- 2 ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
- 2 ml (1/2 teaspoon) pepper
- 175 ml (3/4 cup) salsa
- 50 ml (1/4 cup) bread crumbs
- 15 ml (1 tablespoon) butter
- Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- Cook the macaroni according the directions on the package. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the 60 ml (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons) butter over medium heat.
- Add the flour and stir to combine.
- Add the milk slowly, stirring until combined.
- Add the jalapeno, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until the milk thickens, about 5 minutes.
- Add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and combined. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Spray a 1 1/2 litre (1 1/2 quart) casserole with baking spray.
- Put 1/2 of the macaroni in the casserole.
- Sprinkle 1/2 of the ham over the macaroni.
- Spoon 1/2 of the salsa over the ham.
- Pour 1/2 of the cheese mixture over the ham.
- Repeat with the remaining macaroni, ham, salsa and cheese mixture.
- Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top and dot with the 15 ml of butter.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until heated through and the top is golden.
- Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.