Cheesy Bake

I hope that everyone survived winter storm Nemo! I celebrated my mom’s birthday AND 6 month vegetarian anniversary on Friday by sitting inside anxiously awaiting the skies to open and dump snow on us. It was a welcomed day on the couch (working, of course) after taking an evening Bikram yoga class the night before. It was my first class, and since I bought a 30 class card, I will definitely be writing about it in the future! Despite the not-s0-great weather, I did make a mean mac ‘n cheese that I wanted to share.

So ridiculous
So ridiculous


For anyone that knows me, they know that menu planning is something I really enjoy doing; you can find me scouring the internet (mostly blogs and Pinterest) and cookbooks most days of the week looking for inspiration for meals weeks in advance. I’m usually thinking about my next meal before I’ve finished the one in front of me! I make the recipes as instructed a decent amount of time, but I often tweak a few things based on what I have in the house, or my personal taste preference. It usually isn’t enough of a change to warrant a blog post about it, but every once in awhile I do take a recipe and really make it my own, using the original more as a loose guide and inspiration. So, when I found Budget Byte’s Jalapeno Popper Mac ‘n Cheese, I knew immediately I was going to make it. I just didn’t know until about half way through that I was going to change a lot of it.

Baking macaroni and cheese is awesome. Who knew that adding a little bit of breadcrumbs and throwing it in the oven for a few minutes would add so much texture and flavor to such a simple kitchen classic! Using three different kinds of cheeses may seem like overkill to some, but to a cheese lover like myself, there’s no such thing as too much! The cream cheese definitely kicks this over the top (I need to cook with it more). This version isn’t spicy (to me), so if you want to kick it up a notch feel free to add more jalapeños or some other kinds of peppers. It’s a perfect recipe for a cold winter night (which we’ve been having a lot of recently), or to bring to a potluck. You won’t see this on any “skinny” or “diet friendly” lists, but it’s definitely something you should make and enjoy (in moderation of course).


Jalapeño Popped Baked Mac ‘n Cheese adapted from Budget Bytes
– Serves 4-6 –

1 lb. pasta (elbow, spiral, etc.)
1 Tbsp oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/3 cup milk
5 oz. cream cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2-3 jalapeños, diced
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (any variety will work)
1/2 & 1/4 cups of Panko style bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package. 
3. As the pasta cooks, make your cheesy roux by combining the oil and garlic first in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, cooking for 1-2 minutes.
4. Next, add in the milk, parmesan cheese, and cream cheese. Cooking until the cream cheese is melted and everything is combined. Add the Greek yogurt and jalapeños. 
5. Drain the pasta, and add it back to the original pot. Pour the cheesy jalapeño mix and 1/2 cup of the Panko bread crumbs over the pasta and stir to combine. 
6. Fill a greased 9×9 baking dish with the macaroni and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and shredded cheese. 
7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes before digging in! 

More Pumpkin

Even though pumpkin beer has made its way off the shelves already this season, I refuse to accept that pumpkin season is over. So, I’ve continued to scour the internet for anything and everything pumpkin. This particular recipe comes from HangryPants, by way of And Her Little Dog Too. I know that Heather over at HangryPants loves pumpkin just as much as my fiancé and I do based on the number of recipes she’s posted in the past few months, but I didn’t actually come across this particular one until Leslie of And Her Little Dog Too made it and posted about it. As soon as I saw it, per the usual I fired it off via e-mail (I love the e-mail feature in Google Reader) to my fiancé and he responded with the typical “MAKE.”

After last week’s meat fest, it felt good to stick to non-meat meals for this week. Since we really haven’t been eating much meat these days, last week was like an overload for me. I’m certainly not complaining since I made up the week’s menu and everything was delicious, but it’s amazing how different you feel when you include or exclude things in your diet. That’s neither here nor there, though!

Since it was a pasta dish, it was a perfect dose of carbs for Thursday morning’s pre-work 6 miler. When my alarm goes off at 5:30am I really question my sanity. I question it even more when my head starts to bobble at my desk around 2pm. I decided to start Thursday off post-run with a Green Monster, which I haven’t had in quite awhile. I think I need to get myself some fresh spinach though, because the frozen stuff doesn’t really break down that well. I tried to make a pumpkin pie version with the leftover canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, plain Greek yogurt, and a splash of Almond Breeze (full-on vanilla flavor, of course). It wasn’t bad! I need to stock up on the more typical Green Monster ingredients though so I can experiment.

But yes, the pumpkin penne. YUM. I don’t have garlic gold (sounds fancy, though) so I stuck with regular garlic powder, and I didn’t know what I was missing. It was super creamy which was awesome, and there was a bit of a pumpkin pie flavor, unlike the pumpkin mac ‘n cheese I made a few weeks ago. My fiancé and I did make the mistake of putting two drops of MadDog 375 sauce, which is one of the hot sauces we got last week, on our plates. This sauce is 600,000 Scoville units. A jalapeño is 2,500 – 8,000. So yes, this was A LOT of burn. They aren’t kidding when they tell you to only use a drop in an entire meal, or to water it down. My entire mouth and lips were burning in a way that I could only imagine the next closest thing would be to light them on fire. I doused my lips and mouth in milk for a solid 5 minutes, and had to dump out what was on plate and get a new serving. I learned my lesson, I promise.

So before all the pure pumpkin disappears from the shelves at the grocery store, make this!

Pumpkin Penne
– Serves 4 –

1/2 box whole wheat pasta (*save 1/4 cup of pasta water)
2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare pasta according to directions, slightly undercooking (it will finish cooking once all mixed)
3. At the same time, sauté chopped onion in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
4. Combine mozzarella, pumpkin, ricotta, followed by spices in a large bowl.
5. Add sauteed onions to cheese mixture and 1/4 cup water from the pasta to thicken, then add pasta.
6. Spread pasta mixture in a greased casserole dish, and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese!

I don’t remember exactly how I found this recipe, but on the last snow day, I wound up perusing Yum Sugar‘s site, and focused on one of their posts about macaroni and cheese. They had quite a few different types, but one really stuck out. As a spicy anything lover, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make the Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese.

Since my fiancé and I had a busy weekend, we decided to be daring and tackle the recipe during the week. Monday night was filled with a trip to the gym, dropping off our rent, stopping at the grocery store for some forgotten spices, coupled with me dying from my typical intestinal issues. That’s neither here nor there. The important fact is that I got to make it Tuesday.

I usually try to stay away from recipes that require more than minimal work during the week. So that means less than a 20 minute cook time with minimal prep. We’re big fans of the Bertolli spinach & ricotta tortellini because it’s ready in 10 minutes and absolutely delicious. But knowing we need to expand our week night horizons, I thought this would be an excellent choice. Plus, Tuesdays are always so bland. We both work for a software development company in the time & attendance / payroll industry, and everyone likes to process payroll Tuesdays. So we’re always busy, plus there isn’t any good TV (though MTV’s 16 & Pregnant is becoming increasingly interesting).

Back to the task at hand – the making and devouring of the Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese.

There were A LOT of little steps to get this guy going. First, I needed bread and cook the chicken and put it aside. I also needed to make the macaroni, pretty much at the same time, to ensure there wasn’t a lot of lag time between. Then I needed to make the onion, garlic and milk mixture. My stove top could barely handle the pressure!

Those were really the only tedious parts; mixing all of the cheese and then the final ingredients together was easy. Like always, waiting was torture because I am one of the most impatient, anxious, and ADHD people around. Thankfully my fiancé is the same way, so we manage to entertain each other. Usually ridiculously.

Now this is NOT the type of recipe to make if you’re on a diet, if you’ve already eaten a lot of calories for the day, etc. Of course no mac ‘n cheese is “good for you.” But I’m yet to meet someone that doesn’t love it, so it’s worth it! This particular recipe has a ton of butter, milk, and cheese, and all things wonderfully fatty. But after running a solid 4.5 miles, a nice mile and a half over the training that was required for the day and in a decent time, the indulgence was only appropriate.

Because the recipe has so many heavy ingredients, you really don’t need to have much. Pair it with a simple green salad, and you’ll be good to go!

You’ll find the recipe below. It makes 12 servings. I actually cut it down so it was only a third of the 12 servings, and there was definitely enough for 3-4 people.

Thanks again to my wonderful fiancé for the great pictures! You can check out more of his other pictures over at his blog; I Hate Fun.

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese

2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
1-1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1 pound chicken cutlets
6 tablespoons canola oil, plus more as needed
1 pound elbow macaroni
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
3 cups chopped onions
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1 cup grated jack cheese
1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup creamy and crumbly blue cheese (recommended: Maytag Blue), crumbled, plus more for garnish, if desired
2 teaspoons paprika
1 cup Frank’s RedHot Original or other hot pepper sauce
1 stalk celery, finely diced

1. In a medium bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, salt, cumin, cayenne, and pepper. Beat eggs in a shallow bowl. Coat chicken pieces with the breadcrumbs, dip in the eggs, then coat again with the breadcrumbs; place on a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
2. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 cup canola oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add two of the chicken tenders and cook, turning once, until golden, about 3 minutes. Repeat with the remaining chicken, adding more oil if necessary. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked chicken to paper towels to drain. Cut into 1-inch pieces; set aside.
3. Cook macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water until pasta is tender but not quite cooked through, about 6 minutes. Drain; transfer to very large bowl.
4. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in same large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onions and garlic. Cover; sauté until onions are soft but not brown, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Add flour; stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat and simmer sauce 2 minutes. Add all cheeses, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Whisk until cheeses melt and sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if needed. Mix cheese sauce into macaroni. Mix in half the chicken pieces. Mound mixture in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake macaroni uncovered until heated through, about 25 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, stir hot pepper sauce and remaining 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat until butter melts.
7. Remove macaroni from oven and top with remaining chicken pieces, then spoon 4 tablespoons of hot pepper and butter sauce over macaroni. Bake for 5-7 more minutes.
8. Sprinkle top of macaroni with finely diced celery and more blue cheese crumbles; serve immediately, passing around extra hot pepper sauce.