Firecracker Mac ‘n Cheese (Formerly Jalapeno Popper Mac ‘n cheese)

So I woke up this morning planning to finish the blog about my traveling adventures when I looked outside the kitchen window to see three lovely red bell peppers hanging in my garden. I don’t even remember planting them but there they were! Seeing them inspired me to modify my Jalapeno Popper Mac ‘n Cheese and create “Firecracker Mac ‘n Cheese” in celebration of the Fourth of July!

Firecracker Mac ‘n Cheese Ingredient List

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup butter)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • Knorr Chicken Flavor Bouillon
  • 1-3 tsp. red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Real Crumbled bacon 4.3 oz.
  • 10 Jalapeno peppers (about 2 cups chopped)
  • 2 red bell peppers (about 2 cups chopped)
  • 2lbs small elbow macaroni (or pasta of your choice)
  • 6 cups shredded cheese (I am using 2 cups sharp cheddar, 2 cups mild cheddar, 2 cups pepper jack/mild cheddar blend)
  • Water and salt for the pasta

Cheese Sauce – Place the Butter and milk in a large pot. Enough to hold all that cheese.  Cook to melt the butter. Just  as the milk begins to boil add the cream cheese and turn down the heat. In fact, just turn it off while you prep the peppers.

I added this picture so you could see the size of the jalapenos I was using. The red peppers were from my garden and quite small so I added another that I found in the fridge.

Cut the tops of your peppers and scoop out the seeds (The seeds are where the heat is so if you want it hotter leave in some of the seeds) then chop them as fine as you want. In the past I was lazy and just cut them in about ½ inch squares. This time I wanted them a bit finer so I pulled out my handy dandy Multi-Chopper Slicer Dicer. Once chopped I had about 2 cups of jalapenos.

{We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for this commercial announcement– I love this gadget and find it great when I have to chop a ton of onions. It is one of the best choppers I have found besides my husband (did I forget to mention he is also handy at chopping onions). The chopper does a large dice (about ¼ inch) and a fine dice which is what I used today. It will also slice and core apples.  It is not super easy to use but it is quick and you can get your aggressions out.  You have to make sure the plates are lined up then give it a real good smack! Smack it like a proverbial red-headed step child! Smack it hard!   It comes in very handy when I do “make-ahead/freezer” meals. – Future blog alert. Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.}

Go back to your cheese sauce, turn the heat to medium low. Use a whisk to blend the cream cheese with the milk and butter. Once it is all melted add the chicken bouillon and red pepper flakes. You might want to just add ½ to 1 tsp. of flakes as you can always add more later, if you need more heat. I, personally, think they give great flavor without a lot of heat.  Stir in and let it sit while you make the pasta.

Put the pasta water on to boil with about 1 tsp. of salt, you don’t have to be precise, just pour in some salt.  While you are waiting for the water to boil clean up your kitchen. (I decided to type up notes for this blog) Don’t go far as the water will boil before you know it!

Side Note – On Pinterist I saw a recommendation that you put a wooden spoon across the pot and it won’t boil over. My pasta always boils over that’s how I now it is done when I don’t use a timer. I decided to try it and guess what? It worked! I am sold. – This may have also worked because I usually have the lid on to trap the steam and heat. The spoon was from the cheese sauce hence the white on the tip. 

When it comes to a boil add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the package directions. Use a timer! You want the pasta to be under done! My package says 6-8 minutes so after the water boiled I set the timer for 5 minutes. As soon as the timer goes off use a ladle to remove about 2 cups of pasta water for the cheese sauce. Drain the rest of the pasta.

I know, you are thinking “Wait, Wait! What about all that other cheese you told me to buy?” Don’t worry we are getting to that, but we needed the pasta water first. The rest is very quick if you pay attention.

Add about 1 cup of pasta water to the cheese mixture and bring just to a boil; meaning as soon as you see bubbles. When it is just about to boil turn off the heat. If you don’t you will end up with a curdled gloppy mess. Trust me! At this point add 2 cups of cheese and stir until melted. Once melted add 2 more cups of cheese. Add more pasta water if mixture gets to thick. You want to have something about as thick as cream since the pasta will absorb some of the liquid as it bakes.  Now just have patience, the cheese will melt. Do not turn that heat back on! I am warning you! The cheese will melt very quickly. I think I had all the cheese in in less then 3 minutes.

Side Note – I used pre-shredded cheese since I was being lazy that day but it was also on sale so it was the same price as by weight as the block cheese.

Let the sauce sit a minute while you add the peppers to the pasta. Also prepare the baking pan by lightly spraying it with pam, oil or butter. I am using a large disposable pan since it is for a party and I don’t want to have to worry about washing dishes or getting it back. It was the large size: 16-5/8″L x 11-1/8″W x 2-5/8″H.

Bacon- Everything is better with bacon. You can choose to add the bacon to the pasta or use it to sprinkle on top of the mac n cheese. I like to mix it in so every bite has a wonderful bacon-y flavor.

Now taste the cheese sauce. Does it need more heat? Now is the time to add more red pepper flakes or a pinch or two of cayenne. If you have too much add a bit of milk or cream cheese.

Now mix the cheese and the pasta and put it in the pan. Cover it with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350.  Since I am going to Big Bro’s house this evening I decided to skip this part, for now. I will bake it at his house so it is nice and hot for dinner!

This is a great meal idea if you like to make it ahead or the night before and bake it the next day. Someday I am going to have to try freezing it before the baking stage for a “make-ahead” meal.  After all it is a complete meal:  bacon, Cheese, Pasta, and peppers. Got all the basics covered.

Alternatives: Consider adding in diced chicken or tomatoes. Make it Hawaiian with spam! I am lazy and don’t like to cook bacon but I think it would have been better if I had used real bacon. The premade stuff isn’t as crispy and lacks some flavor. I will have to try another pin I saw on baking bacon in the oven!  Some people like to top their mac n cheese with bread crumbs or crackers, give it a try and let me know what you think! Good luck!

Disclaimer!  At the time of the original posting I have not received any type of compensation or endorsement for the products listed in this post. I just like the products and wanted to share.

Recipe Update- Comments I received were that it needed more cheese so next time I think I will cut the amount of pasta in half. Also that it needed more heat. When I tasted the cheese sauce I thought it was pretty spicy but after being mixed with the pasta and baked it was pretty mild.

 See a copy of this post and other great homemade items by visiting: Home Made Mondays by Frugal by Choice. Have your own homemade items you would like to share? visit the site to see the participation rules.

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3 thoughts on “Firecracker Mac ‘n Cheese (Formerly Jalapeno Popper Mac ‘n cheese)

  1. I was going to read all of this but then I realized I just needed to write down, “it needed more cheese and jalapeños. The Mac part was good though although I prefer larger noodles.

    • Big brothers make the best critics. I agree on the cheese part, you can never have enough cheese. Perhaps I should reduce the amount of noodles to 1 pound instead of 2. Another recommendation I got was to saute or fire roast the peppers first.

  2. One of my co-monkey’s agreed with you . I t needs more cheese and bigger noodles. He said the smaller noodles kept slipping off the fork. My response- Well eat it with a spoon!

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